An elegant tale of a female trailblazer whose remarkable story deserves a wide audience.

DEMETER'S CHOICE

A PORTRAIT OF MY GRANDMOTHER AS A YOUNG ARTIST

An aspiring female sculptor pursues art lessons at home and abroad, carves a place in history and finds love along the way in this well-written historical novel.

Debut novelist Dorra combines fact and fiction in the rich life story of her grandmother Mary Lawrence. The tale opens in 1893 as Lawrence’s statue of Christopher Columbus goes on display at the Columbian Exposition at the World’s Fair in Chicago. The statue has been shipped to the site and installed, but a male chauvinist with a bit of power objects to a woman’s work taking such a prominent place; he has it moved to a lesser site. Lawrence, an early supporter of the suffragette movement, makes an appeal to some higher-ups and gets her work returned to its rightful spot. Lawrence had developed her artistic talents at home in New York under the tutelage of Augustus Saint-Gaudens, and it was through her mentor that she received the World’s Fair commission. The book also traces her travels through Europe in the late 1800s, presenting them through the eyes of a well-bred young woman with artistic ambitions. Dorra does a terrific job of providing a sense of place as Lawrence explores each new city. We can taste the fresh baguettes in Paris and see the picturesque canals in Venice. The book needs tighter editing to catch punctuation errors and typos, and occasionally, the dialogue sounds cheesy. In one chapter, for instance, Lawrence tells her newly engaged sister, “It is like a fairy tale, and George did look quite princely tonight.” Lawrence is a contemporary of another Chicago World’s Fair artist, Mary Cassatt. Lawrence visits Rodin at his Paris studio and meets her future husband at a ball hosted by Charles Dana Gibson, yet these other artists don’t overshadow her achievements. That’s fitting since Lawrence never sought celebrity; she simply wanted to be the best artist she could be. When she finds love with a fellow artist, we cheer them both.

An elegant tale of a female trailblazer whose remarkable story deserves a wide audience.

Pub Date: Dec. 21, 2013

ISBN: 978-1492731832

Page Count: 288

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Jan. 24, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2014

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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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