A talent to watch, Patterson manages to travel broad swaths of history and geography while creating intimate moments with a...

REBELLION

Patterson’s debut novel sprawls across decades and continents, from the American heartland to the far reaches of China, to follow the lives of four women—some related more closely than others—who remake themselves as circumstances allow or require.

When 84-year-old Hazel goes into a nursing home in 1999, her children arrive to close up her farmhouse in Edwardsville, Illinois, and find relics of a past they can’t fully understand. Abruptly the story shifts to Illinois in the 1890s, as Hazel’s mother, Louisa, who has moved from Ohio to farm with her husband, receives letters from her sister Addie, who's living what seems to Louisa an exotic life in China with her missionary husband, Owen, and two sons. Another abrupt shift takes readers to 1998 China as recent college graduate Juanlan reluctantly returns to her provincial hometown to help her parents run their small hotel. While Louisa settles into a mostly contented life, the stories of Hazel, her aunt Addie, and Juanlan, whose physical connection to the others is slim at best, follow a similar thematic arc. Each recognizes that she may have more than one identity, each shrugs off passivity to take control of her life, and each is influenced by a deep relationship with another woman as she falls into an unexpected love affair. Respected widow Hazel carries on a long, secret love affair with her best friend's husband; dutiful daughter Juanlan forges a bond with her rebellious, pregnant sister-in-law while finding herself attracted to several different men; and most dramatically, Addie abandons her family to travel across China beside a woman missionary with whom she's fallen in love. Despite minor quibbles—at times Patterson gets stuck in the weeds of daily minutiae, and outlier Louisa, satisfied in her quiet life, remains undeveloped—Hazel’s, Juanlan’s, and Addie's stories could each stand alone as an involving novel.

A talent to watch, Patterson manages to travel broad swaths of history and geography while creating intimate moments with a refreshing lack of sentimentality; and the novel's sense of adventure makes it addictive reading.

Pub Date: Aug. 8, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-06-257404-6

Page Count: 560

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 15, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2017

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Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

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NORMAL PEOPLE

A young Irish couple gets together, splits up, gets together, splits up—sorry, can't tell you how it ends!

Irish writer Rooney has made a trans-Atlantic splash since publishing her first novel, Conversations With Friends, in 2017. Her second has already won the Costa Novel Award, among other honors, since it was published in Ireland and Britain last year. In outline it's a simple story, but Rooney tells it with bravura intelligence, wit, and delicacy. Connell Waldron and Marianne Sheridan are classmates in the small Irish town of Carricklea, where his mother works for her family as a cleaner. It's 2011, after the financial crisis, which hovers around the edges of the book like a ghost. Connell is popular in school, good at soccer, and nice; Marianne is strange and friendless. They're the smartest kids in their class, and they forge an intimacy when Connell picks his mother up from Marianne's house. Soon they're having sex, but Connell doesn't want anyone to know and Marianne doesn't mind; either she really doesn't care, or it's all she thinks she deserves. Or both. Though one time when she's forced into a social situation with some of their classmates, she briefly fantasizes about what would happen if she revealed their connection: "How much terrifying and bewildering status would accrue to her in this one moment, how destabilising it would be, how destructive." When they both move to Dublin for Trinity College, their positions are swapped: Marianne now seems electric and in-demand while Connell feels adrift in this unfamiliar environment. Rooney's genius lies in her ability to track her characters' subtle shifts in power, both within themselves and in relation to each other, and the ways they do and don't know each other; they both feel most like themselves when they're together, but they still have disastrous failures of communication. "Sorry about last night," Marianne says to Connell in February 2012. Then Rooney elaborates: "She tries to pronounce this in a way that communicates several things: apology, painful embarrassment, some additional pained embarrassment that serves to ironise and dilute the painful kind, a sense that she knows she will be forgiven or is already, a desire not to 'make a big deal.' " Then: "Forget about it, he says." Rooney precisely articulates everything that's going on below the surface; there's humor and insight here as well as the pleasure of getting to know two prickly, complicated people as they try to figure out who they are and who they want to become.

Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

Pub Date: April 16, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-984-82217-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Hogarth/Crown

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

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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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