Tugs at the heartstrings while bringing into focus a too often overlooked injustice in U.S. history.

GARDENS OF HOPE

In early 1940s Los Angeles, two men’s love for each other faces a further challenge when one is sent to a Japanese-American internment camp.

This historical novel opens in 1941, before the United States has entered World War II. For Jack Henry, life continues as normal—he works in his family’s jewelry shop, studies to become a teacher, and puts off his fiancee, Sally Jenkins, about setting a wedding date. In the dusky hours, Jack wanders the park in Pershing Square, a gathering place for gay men. But one evening he meets Hiro, a handsome nisei, or second-generation immigrant from Japan, whose humor and forthrightness stir in Jack far deeper feelings than the sexual thrills of his usual anonymous hookups. During one clandestine yet intimate date on Santa Monica beach, Jack feels more like himself with Hiro than he ever has. But their bliss is short-lived, as after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the U.S. enters the war and forces its Japanese-American citizens into internment camps. Jack turns his energies toward teaching at the Manzanar relocation camp, where he and his new love are reunited. But their relationship is now even more complicated, limited to silent glances under the watchful eyes of armed guards and 1 a.m. rendezvous in the pews of an unlocked church. Perronne’s (Men Can Do Romance, 2013, etc.) tale excels at capturing heartbreak both inside and outside of the camps. A scene of a Japanese woman choosing to break her family’s fine china rather than sell it before being taken away is as disturbing to witness as the dispirited suffering in the cold, dusty conditions of the desert prison. Considering the era, Jack and Hiro’s love is already star-crossed, and the impossibility added by the inhuman circumstances of the camps could easily have become crushing, but small moments of tenderness between the two mediate this hopelessness. The novel doesn’t lack self-awareness, with Jack probing his sudden empathy for Japanese-Americans and the prejudices they face as he wonders why it takes “us getting to know someone branded as other to view them with the humanity they deserved.”

Tugs at the heartstrings while bringing into focus a too often overlooked injustice in U.S. history.

Pub Date: Dec. 30, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-370-43374-2

Page Count: 271

Publisher: Chances Press, LLC

Review Posted Online: Feb. 7, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 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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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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