Only at the end does Urrea fully evoke Teresita’s incandescent spiritual power—in a second novel (after In Search of Snow,...

THE HUMMINGBIRD’S DAUGHTER

The making of a young medicine woman in 19th-century Mexico. Urrea, a Mexican-American best known for his prizewinning nonfiction (The Devil’s Highway, 2004, etc.), has based his leisurely account on the life of an ancestor.

Cayetana Chavez is 14 when she gives birth to Teresita, the future healer. Cayetana herself is known as the hummingbird, God’s messenger, and even more auspicious is the red triangle on her child’s forehead. Teresita’s birth takes place on one of the four ranches belonging to Tomás Urrea (the author hasn’t changed the family name), who is one of the Yori, or white masters; his Indian cowboys and fieldhands are the People, or, in the author’s compelling image, nails destined for the hammer. Teresita is one of Tomás’s many love children, and he will eventually acknowledge her, for he has always been fond of the People and is a decent man, despite his philandering. His story is interwoven with that of Teresita, who is abandoned by her mother and abused by an evil aunt until the old medicine woman Huila offers her protection. In 1880, Tomás decides to move everybody north to another ranch that will provide greater safety from the long-time dictator Porfirio Díaz (the political context is sketchy). Teresita, now 15, comes into her own as midwife and healer—until she is raped and apparently killed by a miner. After she comes back to life during her own wake, the pilgrims start arriving by the thousands, though Teresita denies she is a saint and the nonbeliever Tomás deplores the invasion of his ranch. Eventually, the dictator Díaz, getting reports of an insurrection, orders the capture of Teresita and her father. The 19-year-old healer’s death sentence is commuted to exile, and she makes a spectacular exit from the country.

Only at the end does Urrea fully evoke Teresita’s incandescent spiritual power—in a second novel (after In Search of Snow, 1994) that, otherwise, is a mildly engaging look at life on a prerevolutionary Mexican ranch, with amusingly irreverent touches.

Pub Date: May 17, 2005

ISBN: 0-316-74546-4

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2005

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THE TATTOOIST OF AUSCHWITZ

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 17, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2018

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ANIMAL FARM

A FAIRY STORY

A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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