Brawny and urgent, it’s unmistakably Amis, though without the gimmickry of Time's Arrow (1991).

THE ZONE OF INTEREST

Can love survive against that most hellish of backdrops, the Nazi concentration camp? It's a question that Amis (Lionel Asbo, 2012, etc.) probes in his latest novel, an indelible and unsentimental exploration of the depths of the human soul.

Opening in August 1942, the book's events are narrated from the viewpoints of three distinct characters. Arctic-eyed Golo Thomsen, a German officer, looks every bit the Aryan ideal, ensuring him a lusty welcome in beds across the Reich. He also happens to be the nephew of Martin Bormann, Hitler’s private secretary, though his personal views regarding the Fuhrer's campaign are a good deal more opaque. Paul Doll is the queasily named camp commandant, a doltish yet wily drunkard whose cool wife, Hannah, has caught Thomsen's eye. As for Szmul, back in Poland he was a tender husband and father. In the camp, he is a member of the Sonderkommando, forced to herd fellow inmates into the gas chambers and dispose of their bodies. It’s Szmul who recalls a fable about a king who commissioned a magic mirror that reflected one’s soul. Nobody in the kingdom could look at it for 60 seconds without turning away. The camp, he says, is that mirror. Only you can’t turn away. As Thomsen contrives to woo Hannah, word reaches the Officers’ Club that German forces are surrounded at Stalingrad. Doll becomes increasingly paranoid and Szmul, a bearer of perilous Nazi secrets, strives to find a way to reclaim his life. With malice rampant, absurdity lurks in the shadows, drawn out by twisted details like bureaucratic euphemisms or the fact that Jews are made to pay for their own tickets aboard the trains bringing them to the camp.

Brawny and urgent, it’s unmistakably Amis, though without the gimmickry of Time's Arrow (1991).

Pub Date: Sept. 30, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-385-35349-6

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: July 31, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2014

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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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