Warm-hearted and well-written, if a trifle pat.

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HOW TO BE AN AMERICAN HOUSEWIFE

A Japanese war bride and her American daughter lay bare family secrets and heal old wounds in Dilloway’s poignant debut.

At the end of the war, 18-year-old Shoko had to go to work so her younger brother Taro could finish school, even though she was the better student. As a girl, her mission was to find a husband, and her father hoped she would marry one of the American occupiers, though her brother hated them. But Shoko fell in love with Ronin, a member of the “untouchable” caste still despised in modern Japan, and only married kindly American Charlie after Ronin was killed. We learn all this from the elderly Shoko, settled in San Diego since Charlie retired from the Navy and now facing surgery for a heart condition, probably a legacy of radiation from the bomb blast at Nagasaki, 50 miles from her childhood home. Though Taro has refused to communicate with his sister since she married an American, Shoko has unfinished business in her homeland, and when her doctor forbids her to make the trip, she persuades daughter Sue to go in her stead. Sue, a divorcée with a preteen daughter and a paper-pushing job that bores her, has always felt that she disappointed her mother—and in fact, Shoko’s narration of Part One reveals a cranky, difficult woman, unable to show love except by criticizing and still carrying around a load of resentments from her childhood. Part Two, Sue’s account of her visit to Japan, is considerably softer-edged; she meets two welcoming cousins and manages to crack Taro’s grumpy façade, collecting the white funeral kimono Shoko has requested of him and eliciting fond memories of his sister as a baseball-playing tomboy in prewar Japan. The transition is a little abrupt, and the closing sections are more reassuring than Shoko’s narration led us to expect. Readers looking for a strong story that turns out well for sympathetically rendered characters will not complain.

Warm-hearted and well-written, if a trifle pat.

Pub Date: Aug. 5, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-399-15637-3

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: June 3, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2010

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Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

THEN SHE WAS GONE

Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 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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