A gripping peek into a bygone Italy and an astute look at the era’s prejudice.

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BEYOND THE GHETTO GATES

A historical novel set in Italy at the end of the 18th century explores the plight of persecuted Jews and the possibility of religious tolerance.

Mirelle d’Ancona is a young Jewish girl in Ancona, Italy. Despite her family’s business success—her father owns a well-regarded ketubah workshop—she suffers from the same restrictions onerously placed on all Jews in Italy in 1796. She is prohibited from leaving the Jewish ghetto at night. And she cannot venture outside without wearing the yellow armband that marks her second-class citizenship, a humiliation not attenuated by her otherwise privileged existence: “She found it difficult to reconcile her comfortable life with the nightly imprisonment to which she and her neighbors were subjected.” Her father, Simone, pushes for her to marry Signor Morpurgo, a sensible choice considering the businessman’s wealth. But Mirelle pines for Christophe Lefevre, a French soldier under the command of Napoleon while he marches through Italy. Christophe is not only part of an invading military force, but also a Roman Catholic. Meanwhile, a Catholic named Francesca Marotti causes a stir when she claims to see a painted Madonna look down on her and shed a tear, a miraculous moment some interpret as a sign to take up arms against both the French and the Jews. Francesca is no friend of the Jews, but she doesn’t share her husband Emilio’s murderous contempt for them either. He’s pulled into a conspiracy to pulverize the Jewish community organized by Cardinal Ranuzzi. Cameron delicately details Francesca’s crisis of conscience, torn between the anti-Semitic venom of her husband and the church to which she’s devoted and the example of Jewish decency a young French soldier, Daniel Isidore, provides. The author paints a vivid tableau of the historical period with impressive rigor and authenticity. In addition, Cameron provocatively wonders if, while prejudice is eternal, past ages were better equipped to manage it. Nevertheless, the story is a stirring one that never didactically lectures readers.

A gripping peek into a bygone Italy and an astute look at the era’s prejudice.

Pub Date: April 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-63152-850-7

Page Count: 456

Publisher: She Writes Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 21, 2020

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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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Archer will be a great series character for fans of crime fiction. Let’s hope the cigarettes don’t kill him.

ONE GOOD DEED

Thriller writer Baldacci (A Minute to Midnight, 2019, etc.) launches a new detective series starring World War II combat vet Aloysius Archer.

In 1949, Archer is paroled from Carderock Prison (he was innocent) and must report regularly to his parole officer, Ernestine Crabtree (she’s “damn fine-looking”). Parole terms forbid his visiting bars or loose women, which could become a problem. Trouble starts when businessman Hank Pittleman offers Archer $100 to recover a ’47 Cadillac that’s collateral for a debt owed by Lucas Tuttle, who readily agrees he owes the money. But Tuttle wants his daughter Jackie back—she’s Pittleman’s girlfriend, and she won’t return to Daddy. Archer finds the car, but it’s been torched. With no collateral to collect, he may have to return his hundred bucks. Meanwhile, Crabtree gets Archer the only job available, butchering hogs at the slaughterhouse. He’d killed plenty of men in combat, and now he needs peace. The Pittleman job doesn’t provide that peace, but at least it doesn’t involve bashing hogs’ brains in. People wind up dead and Archer becomes a suspect. So he noses around and shows that he might have the chops to be a good private investigator, a shamus. This is an era when gals have gams, guys say dang and keep extra Lucky Strikes in their hatbands, and a Lady Liberty half-dollar buys a good meal. The dialogue has a '40s noir feel: “And don’t trust nobody.…I don’t care how damn pretty they are.” There’s adult entertainment at the Cat’s Meow, cheap grub at the Checkered Past, and just enough clichés to prove that no one’s highfalutin. Readers will like Archer. He’s a talented man who enjoys detective stories, won’t keep ill-gotten gains, and respects women. All signs suggest a sequel where he hangs out a shamus shingle.

Archer will be a great series character for fans of crime fiction. Let’s hope the cigarettes don’t kill him.

Pub Date: July 9, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5387-5056-8

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: Nov. 14, 2019

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