The old, black magic just isn’t here. The Family is Godfather Lite. Eminently skippable.

THE FAMILY

The late (1920–99) Puzo’s last novel, completed by his companion Gino, is historical fiction, about the 15th-century Borgia clan—a book on which Puzo had worked sporadically since 1983.

The scattershot composition is all too obvious. Canned history predominates, and minimal dramatic action is more often summarized than portrayed. Nor are Puzo’s characters especially compelling, though the cast includes such notable late-Renaissance figures as Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia, first vice-chancellor (that is, consigliere) to Pope Innocent, then himself pontiff; the children this “son of the church” fathers on his various mistresses (such as infamous siblings Cesare and Lucrezia); and immortals like Niccolò Machiavelli, Michelangelo Buonarotti, and Leonardo da Vinci (the last of whom advises the military-minded Cesare on the construction of impregnable fortifications). The story is focused almost exclusively on shifting political alliances and the arranged marriages that create and sustain them—and machinations involving the royalty and nobility of Rome, Naples, France, and Spain tend quickly to blur together in the reader’s mind. Puzo and Gino inject some juice into the ongoing incestuous love between much-married Lucrezia and her vainglorious brother, but the latter is so preoccupied with conquering new territories (ostensibly for the glory of the church) that we soon lose interest in their fabled amorality. The fates of a Roman satirist who unwisely vilifies Cesare and of the radical Dominican friar Savonarola are promising subplots only very sketchily developed. Alas, all these gorgeously bedecked schemers aren’t anything like the charismatic monsters we expect (we know Vito and the other Corleones; Rodrigo Borgia and his brood are no Corleones). They’re number-crunching, publicity-conscious powerbrokers: a bunch of 15th-century Dick Cheneys.

The old, black magic just isn’t here. The Family is Godfather Lite. Eminently skippable.

Pub Date: Oct. 2, 2001

ISBN: 0-06-039445-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2001

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Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

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CIRCE

A retelling of ancient Greek lore gives exhilarating voice to a witch.

“Monsters are a boon for gods. Imagine all the prayers.” So says Circe, a sly, petulant, and finally commanding voice that narrates the entirety of Miller’s dazzling second novel. The writer returns to Homer, the wellspring that led her to an Orange Prize for The Song of Achilles (2012). This time, she dips into The Odyssey for the legend of Circe, a nymph who turns Odysseus’ crew of men into pigs. The novel, with its distinctive feminist tang, starts with the sentence: “When I was born, the name for what I was did not exist.” Readers will relish following the puzzle of this unpromising daughter of the sun god Helios and his wife, Perse, who had negligible use for their child. It takes banishment to the island Aeaea for Circe to sense her calling as a sorceress: “I will not be like a bird bred in a cage, I thought, too dull to fly even when the door stands open. I stepped into those woods and my life began.” This lonely, scorned figure learns herbs and potions, surrounds herself with lions, and, in a heart-stopping chapter, outwits the monster Scylla to propel Daedalus and his boat to safety. She makes lovers of Hermes and then two mortal men. She midwifes the birth of the Minotaur on Crete and performs her own C-section. And as she grows in power, she muses that “not even Odysseus could talk his way past [her] witchcraft. He had talked his way past the witch instead.” Circe’s fascination with mortals becomes the book’s marrow and delivers its thrilling ending. All the while, the supernatural sits intriguingly alongside “the tonic of ordinary things.” A few passages coil toward melodrama, and one inelegant line after a rape seems jarringly modern, but the spell holds fast. Expect Miller’s readership to mushroom like one of Circe’s spells.

Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

Pub Date: April 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-316-55634-7

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

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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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