Beautiful, noble, fascinating, and almost unbearably sad.

A THREAD OF GRACE

Stateless Jews find refuge in the valleys of northwest Italy, thanks to the humanity of supposedly thick-witted peasants: a rich, rewarding, and well-researched tale of WWII.

Piedmont, the province north of Genoa, in the lee of the Maritime Alps, is now largely off the American tourist map. But in 1943, when the Italian Fascists surrendered to the advancing allies, Piedmont was desperately attractive to the thousands of Jewish refugees who were forced to flee the Germans marching into the political vacuum in Mussolini’s former European territories. Brutal as the Italian fascists were, they had been notoriously slow to turn over their Jews to Germans, and the Piemontesi had a reputation for sanctuary. In his third outing, science-fiction author Russell (Children of God, 1998, etc.) weaves oral and written histories and a large cast into a fast moving story that switches back and forth between the scarcely populated agricultural valleys at the edge of the Alps and fictitious Porto Sant’Andrea, an unexceptional industrial city somewhere on the Ligurian coast. An odd coalition of native Italian Jews, Roman Catholic clergy, communists, and unaffiliated anti-Fascists, have united in a conspiracy to protect the stream of refugees coming on foot through the mountain passes from France at the very moment that the Nazis are turning against their former Italian hosts. The masterminds of the Italo-Jewish effort are Lidia Leoni, an aristocratic and supremely sophisticated communist and her boozy, brilliant, protean son Renzo, a much-decorated flier haunted by his role in Italy’s Ethiopian adventure. Knowing the efficiency and ruthlessness of the Germans who now hold power in Porto Sant’ Andrea, the Leonis steer money and refugees to the tiny hamlets in Valdottavo, where peasants have already begun to harbor Transalpine guests. The one “good” German in Russell’s adventure is Werner Schramm, a doctor in flight from his past as an obedient euthanizer and witness to the death camps who is now witness to the humanity of the Jews and the charity of the mountain peasants.

Beautiful, noble, fascinating, and almost unbearably sad.

Pub Date: Feb. 8, 2005

ISBN: 0-375-50184-3

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2004

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Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the...

FLY AWAY

Hannah’s sequel to Firefly Lane (2008) demonstrates that those who ignore family history are often condemned to repeat it.

When we last left Kate and Tully, the best friends portrayed in Firefly Lane, the friendship was on rocky ground. Now Kate has died of cancer, and Tully, whose once-stellar TV talk show career is in free fall, is wracked with guilt over her failure to be there for Kate until her very last days. Kate’s death has cemented the distrust between her husband, Johnny, and daughter Marah, who expresses her grief by cutting herself and dropping out of college to hang out with goth poet Paxton. Told mostly in flashbacks by Tully, Johnny, Marah and Tully’s long-estranged mother, Dorothy, aka Cloud, the story piles up disasters like the derailment of a high-speed train. Increasingly addicted to prescription sedatives and alcohol, Tully crashes her car and now hovers near death, attended by Kate’s spirit, as the other characters gather to see what their shortsightedness has wrought. We learn that Tully had tried to parent Marah after her father no longer could. Her hard-drinking decline was triggered by Johnny’s anger at her for keeping Marah and Paxton’s liaison secret. Johnny realizes that he only exacerbated Marah’s depression by uprooting the family from their Seattle home. Unexpectedly, Cloud, who rebuffed Tully’s every attempt to reconcile, also appears at her daughter’s bedside. Sixty-nine years old and finally sober, Cloud details for the first time the abusive childhood, complete with commitments to mental hospitals and electroshock treatments, that led to her life as a junkie lowlife and punching bag for trailer-trash men. Although powerful, Cloud’s largely peripheral story deflects focus away from the main conflict, as if Hannah was loath to tackle the intractable thicket in which she mired her main characters.

Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the pages turning even as readers begin to resent being drawn into this masochistic morass.

Pub Date: April 23, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-312-57721-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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THE COLDEST WINTER EVER

Debut novel by hip-hop rap artist Sister Souljah, whose No Disrespect (1994), which mixes sexual history with political diatribe, is popular in schools country-wide. In its way, this is a tour de force of black English and underworld slang, as finely tuned to its heroine’s voice as Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. The subject matter, though, has a certain flashiness, like a black Godfather family saga, and the heroine’s eventual fall develops only glancingly from her character. Born to a 14-year-old mother during one of New York’s worst snowstorms, Winter Santiaga is the teenaged daughter of Ricky Santiaga, Brooklyn’s top drug dealer, who lives like an Arab prince and treats his wife and four daughters like a queen and her princesses. Winter lost her virginity at 12 and now focuses unwaveringly on varieties of adolescent self-indulgence: sex and sugar-daddies, clothes, and getting her own way. She uses school only as a stepping-stone for getting out of the house—after all, nobody’s paying her to go there. But if there’s no money in it, why go? Meanwhile, Daddy decides it’s time to move out of Brooklyn to truly fancy digs on Long Island, though this places him in the discomfiting position of not being absolutely hands-on with his dealers; and sure enough the rise of some young Turks leads to his arrest. Then he does something really stupid: he murders his wife’s two weak brothers in jail with him on Riker’s Island and gets two consecutive life sentences. Winter’s then on her own, especially with Bullet, who may have replaced her dad as top hood, though when she selfishly fails to help her pregnant buddy Simone, there’s worse—much worse—to come. Thinness aside: riveting stuff, with language so frank it curls your hair. (Author tour)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-671-02578-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1999

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