A GERMAN IN A FOREIGN LAND

An engaging but condensed fictional account of Germans in Eastern Europe.

A generational family novel tells the story of one line of German settlers in Hungary over two centuries.

People know about the Germans who went west to settle in the Americas, but as Heck reminds readers in this tale, some of them actually went east. After the Banat region of Hungary comes under the control of the Austrian Empire, Empress Maria Theresa decides to sow the lands with German Catholics. Stefan and Sophie Fritz from the Black Forest answer the call for colonists, though it means they have to disguise their Lutheran faith. Stefan believes that the promise of good land abroad beats the guarantee of poverty, despite the loss of home. “They say you are putting down new roots,” writes Stefan as he leaves Germany in 1763. “But do the roots ever take hold, and are you nourished by the new growth? Or are they weeds, growing but producing nothing?” The Fritzes toil beside the other colonists, allowing their son Johann to become a skilled violinist who associates with the likes of Haydn and Beethoven. Other descendants of Stefan and Sophie participate in the Hungarian Revolution of 1848 and both world wars. The fate of the family is ultimately tied to the destiny of the German community of Eastern Europe. In this series opener, Heck writes in a detailed prose that reveals what must have been a great deal of research: “Because women in the Banat were used to hard work in the fields, they were strong and mostly healthy. Some women went into labor in the fields, then cleaned up the best they could, wrapped the babies to their bodies, breastfed them, and went back to work that day or the next.” The format is epistolary, and because of this (and its compressed time frame—almost 200 years in just over 200 pages), there is a rushed, overly expositional quality to both the dialogue and the narration. As a result, the story is not quite as immersive as it might have been. That said, the book is noteworthy for its dramatization of a vanished chapter in German and European history.

An engaging but condensed fictional account of Germans in Eastern Europe.

Pub Date: Oct. 17, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-79606-643-2

Page Count: 230

Publisher: XlibrisUS

Review Posted Online: April 8, 2020

THE WOMEN

A dramatic, vividly detailed reconstruction of a little-known aspect of the Vietnam War.

A young woman’s experience as a nurse in Vietnam casts a deep shadow over her life.

When we learn that the farewell party in the opening scene is for Frances “Frankie” McGrath’s older brother—“a golden boy, a wild child who could make the hardest heart soften”—who is leaving to serve in Vietnam in 1966, we feel pretty certain that poor Finley McGrath is marked for death. Still, it’s a surprise when the fateful doorbell rings less than 20 pages later. His death inspires his sister to enlist as an Army nurse, and this turn of events is just the beginning of a roller coaster of a plot that’s impressive and engrossing if at times a bit formulaic. Hannah renders the experiences of the young women who served in Vietnam in all-encompassing detail. The first half of the book, set in gore-drenched hospital wards, mildewed dorm rooms, and boozy officers’ clubs, is an exciting read, tracking the transformation of virginal, uptight Frankie into a crack surgical nurse and woman of the world. Her tensely platonic romance with a married surgeon ends when his broken, unbreathing body is airlifted out by helicopter; she throws her pent-up passion into a wild affair with a soldier who happens to be her dead brother’s best friend. In the second part of the book, after the war, Frankie seems to experience every possible bad break. A drawback of the story is that none of the secondary characters in her life are fully three-dimensional: Her dismissive, chauvinistic father and tight-lipped, pill-popping mother, her fellow nurses, and her various love interests are more plot devices than people. You’ll wish you could have gone to Vegas and placed a bet on the ending—while it’s against all the odds, you’ll see it coming from a mile away.

A dramatic, vividly detailed reconstruction of a little-known aspect of the Vietnam War.

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2024

ISBN: 9781250178633

Page Count: 480

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2023

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THE LITTLE LIAR

A captivating allegory about evil, lies, and forgiveness.

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Truth and deception clash in this tale of the Holocaust.

Udo Graf is proud that the Wolf has assigned him the task of expelling all 50,000 Jews from Salonika, Greece. In that city, Nico Krispis is an 11-year-old Jewish boy whose blue eyes and blond hair deceive, but whose words do not. Those who know him know he has never told a lie in his life—“Never be the one to tell lies, Nico,” his grandfather teaches him. “God is always watching.” Udo and Nico meet, and Udo decides to exploit the child’s innocence. At the train station where Jews are being jammed into cattle cars bound for Auschwitz, Udo gives Nico a yellow star to wear and persuades him to whisper among the crowd, “I heard it from a German officer. They are sending us to Poland. We will have new homes. And jobs.” The lad doesn’t know any better, so he helps persuade reluctant Jews to board the train to hell. “You were a good little liar,” Udo later tells Nico, and delights in the prospect of breaking the boy’s spirit, which is more fun and a greater challenge than killing him outright. When Nico realizes the horrific nature of what he's done, his truth-telling days are over. He becomes an inveterate liar about everything. Narrating the story is the Angel of Truth, whom according to a parable God had cast out of heaven and onto earth, where Truth shattered into billions of pieces, each to lodge in a human heart. (Obviously, many hearts have been missed.) Truth skillfully weaves together the characters, including Nico; his brother, Sebastian; Sebastian’s wife, Fannie; and the “heartless deceiver” Udo. Events extend for decades beyond World War II, until everyone’s lives finally collide in dramatic fashion. As Truth readily acknowledges, his account is loaded with twists and turns, some fortuitous and others not. Will Nico Krispis ever seek redemption? And will he find it? Author Albom’s passion shows through on every page in this well-crafted novel.

A captivating allegory about evil, lies, and forgiveness.

Pub Date: Nov. 14, 2023

ISBN: 9780062406651

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Sept. 21, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2023

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