Disappointing effort from York, a writer with plenty of potential but too few fresh ideas.

THE SWEET LIFE

York revisits Swan’s Knob as change takes hold of this small southern town.

In her debut work, The Piano Teacher, York followed the courtship of Roy Swan and Miss Wilma. Years later, York catches up with the pair as Wilma and Roy enjoy their seventh anniversary. It’s a pleasure to see the Swan’s savoring their late-in-life romance. When they aren’t canoodling, Roy occupies himself with his budding vineyard and Wilma with her piano lessons and choir rehearsals. The cozy and confident couple is in for a few surprises when events conspire to shake the foundation of their solid union. Change makes its way into the Swan house when Wilma’s teenaged granddaughter, Starling, is deposited on their doorstep. Starling, though thoroughly well adjusted, manages to liven up the Swan house with her music, trendy clothing and general insouciance. From there, things get more complicated. Roy is coaxed into hosting a music festival on the Swan family farm. What was pitched to Roy as a small gathering of local musicians turns into a nationally publicized event drawing thousands. All this excitement takes its toll on Roy, and he suffers a debilitating stroke. With the approach of the festival and the grape harvest, Roy must accept assistance from his neighbors. Wilma, in turn, learns to open her heart to receive the strength and support required to overcome this frightening episode. Sadly, York leaves too many questions unanswered at the end of the novel; the reader may feel as though the literary meal ended before dessert. And at times it seems that York doesn’t really know her characters intimately. Rather than mining for original material, she relies on a standard cast of southern-fried characters and a well-trod plotline.

Disappointing effort from York, a writer with plenty of potential but too few fresh ideas.

Pub Date: March 1, 2007

ISBN: 0-452-28822-3

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Plume

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2006

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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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Though gripping, even moving at times, the novel doesn’t do justice to the solemn history from which it is drawn.

CILKA'S JOURNEY

In this follow-up to the widely read The Tattooist of Auschwitz (2018), a young concentration camp survivor is sentenced to 15 years’ hard labor in a Russian gulag.

The novel begins with the liberation of Auschwitz by Soviet troops in 1945. In the camp, 16-year-old Cecilia "Cilka" Klein—one of the Jewish prisoners introduced in Tattooist—was forced to become the mistress of two Nazi commandants. The Russians accuse her of collaborating—they also think she might be a spy—and send her to the Vorkuta Gulag in Siberia. There, another nightmarish scenario unfolds: Cilka, now 18, and the other women in her hut are routinely raped at night by criminal-class prisoners with special “privileges”; by day, the near-starving women haul coal from the local mines in frigid weather. The narrative is intercut with Cilka’s grim memories of Auschwitz as well as her happier recollections of life with her parents and sister before the war. At Vorkuta, her lot improves when she starts work as a nurse trainee at the camp hospital under the supervision of a sympathetic woman doctor who tries to protect her. Cilka also begins to feel the stirrings of romantic love for Alexandr, a fellow prisoner. Though believing she is cursed, Cilka shows great courage and fortitude throughout: Indeed, her ability to endure trauma—as well her heroism in ministering to the sick and wounded—almost defies credulity. The novel is ostensibly based on a true story, but a central element in the book—Cilka’s sexual relationship with the SS officers—has been challenged by the Auschwitz Memorial Research Center and by the real Cilka’s stepson, who says it is false. As in Tattooist, the writing itself is workmanlike at best and often overwrought.

Though gripping, even moving at times, the novel doesn’t do justice to the solemn history from which it is drawn.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-26570-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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