REIGN OF MADNESS

Cullen’s second historical novel about Renaissance-era Spanish royals, this time concerning the “Mad Queen,” Juana La Loca.

Cullen’s challenge is considerable: find a viable story in the life of Juana, daughter of Isabel and Ferdinand, who is known chiefly for having spent 46 years imprisoned by her family as a madwoman. And find it she does, although it only covers Juana’s brief pre-imprisonment life. Ranging from 1493, when Juana, a teenager, first spots the flaws in her parent’s supposedly idyllic marriage, to 1509, when all the shoes of fate finally drop, this is primarily a tale of a woman’s futile struggle against the entrenched patriarchy of her time. As Cristóbal Colón (Christopher Columbus) returns in triumph to her parents’ court, Juana is entranced by his son, Diego Colón. Soon, though, she is married off to Philippe the Handsome, a Burgundian archduke (and Habsburg heir) who rules Flanders. Far from home, she is at first infatuated with her Habsburg husband. However, as the licentiousness of Philippe's court compared to the relative austerity of Queen Isabel’s continues to shock, her Spanish ladies desert her, except for scholarly and chaste Beatriz. Philippe’s infidelities bring an end to the extended honeymoon, as does Juana’s delay in producing a male child. Their son Charles is born, but his deformed jaw (a Habsburg trait) impedes both nutrition and speech; however, Charles will continue the Habsburg dynasty as Holy Roman Emperor. A number of premature deaths has made Juana the heir apparent to the Spanish throne. But Philippe, by spreading rumors of her mental instability (due, he self-servingly claims, to excessive love for him, despite the fact that their marital relations are now mostly forced), manages to impugn Juana’s competence enough to elevate his own rank from King-consort to King. Juana’s ingrained ineptitude at both overt confrontation, and the more acceptable female route of subversive sabotage, will lead to her downfall, as will her passion for the commoner Diego. Although the outcome is known, the suspense never waivers.

 

Pub Date: Aug. 4, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-399-15709-7

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: July 20, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2011

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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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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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Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

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ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

Doerr presents us with two intricate stories, both of which take place during World War II; late in the novel, inevitably, they intersect.

In August 1944, Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a blind 16-year-old living in the walled port city of Saint-Malo in Brittany and hoping to escape the effects of Allied bombing. D-Day took place two months earlier, and Cherbourg, Caen and Rennes have already been liberated. She’s taken refuge in this city with her great-uncle Etienne, at first a fairly frightening figure to her. Marie-Laure’s father was a locksmith and craftsman who made scale models of cities that Marie-Laure studied so she could travel around on her own. He also crafted clever and intricate boxes, within which treasures could be hidden. Parallel to the story of Marie-Laure we meet Werner and Jutta Pfennig, a brother and sister, both orphans who have been raised in the Children’s House outside Essen, in Germany. Through flashbacks we learn that Werner had been a curious and bright child who developed an obsession with radio transmitters and receivers, both in their infancies during this period. Eventually, Werner goes to a select technical school and then, at 18, into the Wehrmacht, where his technical aptitudes are recognized and he’s put on a team trying to track down illegal radio transmissions. Etienne and Marie-Laure are responsible for some of these transmissions, but Werner is intrigued since what she’s broadcasting is innocent—she shares her passion for Jules Verne by reading aloud 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A further subplot involves Marie-Laure’s father’s having hidden a valuable diamond, one being tracked down by Reinhold von Rumpel, a relentless German sergeant-major.

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4658-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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