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DEVIATION

Though a minor contribution to the larger literature of World War II, a strange, heartfelt account of someone who served a...

Italian writer D’Eramo recounts her experiences in Germany in the closing months of World War II.

Falling in the same subgenre as Curzio Malaparte’s Kaputt, D’Eramo’s novel is really thinly fictionalized autobiography. When her father, a devoted fascist, removed her family to the Alps following the collapse of Mussolini’s regime, D’Eramo threw herself into the fascist cause, volunteering to join a labor corps in Germany. After she had a chance to study the involuntary members of her unit, Russians and members of political resistance groups among them, all of whom mistrusted her as a true believer in the cause, she decided to head home in disgust with the Hitler regime only to be sent in a labor detail to Dachau. While working to rescue survivors of a bombing in Mainz, a wall collapsed on her; she writes that a German soldier was hit in the head by a flying brick and then, after asking to see his children, “slumped to the ground, killed instantly.” Told sometimes in the first and sometimes in the third person, D’Eramo’s account addresses not just wartime experiences, but also her subsequent life in a wheelchair, paralyzed by the accident and dependent on drugs; some of the episodes she recounts are as hellish as anything she experienced in the labor camps, as when, writing of her addiction to Valium, she notes, “How could I have forgotten that it was the basic component of the truth serum used by the Nazis in Dachau?” In her dreams she may be running, fleet-footed, toward or away from that crumbling wall in Mainz, “truly like the others, thrashed, spat upon, just like them,” but her realities are somber and rueful, the disillusionment of a 19-year-old girl who survived into old age but never forgot that youthful indiscretion. The book resembles Malaparte’s in some of its hallucinatory aspects, but it also recalls work as various as Iris Origo’s War in Val D’Orcia and Louis-Ferdinand Céline’s Castle to Castle.

Though a minor contribution to the larger literature of World War II, a strange, heartfelt account of someone who served a role few would confess to.

Pub Date: Sept. 18, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-374-13845-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2018

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THE NIGHTINGALE

Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

Hannah’s new novel is an homage to the extraordinary courage and endurance of Frenchwomen during World War II.

In 1995, an elderly unnamed widow is moving into an Oregon nursing home on the urging of her controlling son, Julien, a surgeon. This trajectory is interrupted when she receives an invitation to return to France to attend a ceremony honoring passeurs: people who aided the escape of others during the war. Cut to spring, 1940: Viann has said goodbye to husband Antoine, who's off to hold the Maginot line against invading Germans. She returns to tending her small farm, Le Jardin, in the Loire Valley, teaching at the local school and coping with daughter Sophie’s adolescent rebellion. Soon, that world is upended: The Germans march into Paris and refugees flee south, overrunning Viann’s land. Her long-estranged younger sister, Isabelle, who has been kicked out of multiple convent schools, is sent to Le Jardin by Julien, their father in Paris, a drunken, decidedly unpaternal Great War veteran. As the depredations increase in the occupied zone—food rationing, systematic looting, and the billeting of a German officer, Capt. Beck, at Le Jardin—Isabelle’s outspokenness is a liability. She joins the Resistance, volunteering for dangerous duty: shepherding downed Allied airmen across the Pyrenees to Spain. Code-named the Nightingale, Isabelle will rescue many before she's captured. Meanwhile, Viann’s journey from passive to active resistance is less dramatic but no less wrenching. Hannah vividly demonstrates how the Nazis, through starvation, intimidation and barbarity both casual and calculated, demoralized the French, engineering a community collapse that enabled the deportations and deaths of more than 70,000 Jews. Hannah’s proven storytelling skills are ideally suited to depicting such cataclysmic events, but her tendency to sentimentalize undermines the gravitas of this tale.

Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

Pub Date: Feb. 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-312-57722-3

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 19, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2014

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THE TATTOOIST OF AUSCHWITZ

The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as...

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An unlikely love story set amid the horrors of a Nazi death camp.

Based on real people and events, this debut novel follows Lale Sokolov, a young Slovakian Jew sent to Auschwitz in 1942. There, he assumes the heinous task of tattooing incoming Jewish prisoners with the dehumanizing numbers their SS captors use to identify them. When the Tätowierer, as he is called, meets fellow prisoner Gita Furman, 17, he is immediately smitten. Eventually, the attraction becomes mutual. Lale proves himself an operator, at once cagey and courageous: As the Tätowierer, he is granted special privileges and manages to smuggle food to starving prisoners. Through female prisoners who catalog the belongings confiscated from fellow inmates, Lale gains access to jewels, which he trades to a pair of local villagers for chocolate, medicine, and other items. Meanwhile, despite overwhelming odds, Lale and Gita are able to meet privately from time to time and become lovers. In 1944, just ahead of the arrival of Russian troops, Lale and Gita separately leave the concentration camp and experience harrowingly close calls. Suffice it to say they both survive. To her credit, the author doesn’t flinch from describing the depravity of the SS in Auschwitz and the unimaginable suffering of their victims—no gauzy evasions here, as in Boy in the Striped Pajamas. She also manages to raise, if not really explore, some trickier issues—the guilt of those Jews, like the tattooist, who survived by doing the Nazis’ bidding, in a sense betraying their fellow Jews; and the complicity of those non-Jews, like the Slovaks in Lale’s hometown, who failed to come to the aid of their beleaguered countrymen.

The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as nonfiction. Still, this is a powerful, gut-wrenching tale that is hard to shake off.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-06-279715-5

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 16, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2018

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