With Ilse as unblinking guide, Charlesworth travels the morally ambiguous alleyways of war to create a deeply satisfying if...

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THE CHILDREN’S WAR

More Empire of the Sun than The Painted Bird, British author Charlesworth’s fourth (Glass House, 1987, etc.), based on her mother’s history, follows a half-Jewish German girl’s travails during WWII after her mother’s arrangements for her to leave Germany go awry.

It’s 1939 when Ilse arrives in Morocco to stay with her uncle Willie. Her father Otto, a Jewish Communist, has stayed in Germany on principle to resist the Nazis while Ilse’s mother Lore is supposedly saving money for her own passage. When Willie joins the French Foreign Legion to fight Hitler, Ilse is sent to Paris, expecting to find both parents. Only Otto shows up. Lore doesn't come. Instead, sending papers that erase Ilse’s Jewish heritage, she asks the girl to return to Germany, where, as an Aryan, she will now supposedly be safe. Otto feels betrayed by Lore, who used Ilse to get him to leave Germany for his own safety. Ilse is torn between loyal obedience to her father, whose lack of past attention she resents, and yearning for her mother, whose maternal love she never doubts. Ultimately, Ilse stays with Otto. As Paris falls, they make their way south, helped along the way by the romantic if shadowy resistance fighter Francois, a Polish Jew whose personal mission becomes keeping Ilse safe over the next four years. Ilse and Otto end up in Marseilles, where a well-connected madam protects them—until the Germans capture Otto. Ilse’s ambivalence toward her father, a hero in the eyes of the world but a man riddled with human imperfection, is particularly moving. Meanwhile, during the bombing of Hamburg, Lore dies while saving her employer’s son, a Hitler Youth member who secretly performs small acts of anti-fascism. Ilse grows from a passive child, observing events, into an active participant, driven by the same mixed motives as everyone else.

With Ilse as unblinking guide, Charlesworth travels the morally ambiguous alleyways of war to create a deeply satisfying if unsettling read full of richly complicated characters.

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2004

ISBN: 1-4000-4009-4

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2004

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A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

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THE GLASS HOTEL

A financier's Ponzi scheme unravels to disastrous effect, revealing the unexpected connections among a cast of disparate characters.

How did Vincent Smith fall overboard from a container ship near the coast of Mauritania, fathoms away from her former life as Jonathan Alkaitis' pretend trophy wife? In this long-anticipated follow-up to Station Eleven (2014), Mandel uses Vincent's disappearance to pick through the wreckage of Alkaitis' fraudulent investment scheme, which ripples through hundreds of lives. There's Paul, Vincent's half brother, a composer and addict in recovery; Olivia, an octogenarian painter who invested her retirement savings in Alkaitis' funds; Leon, a former consultant for a shipping company; and a chorus of office workers who enabled Alkaitis and are terrified of facing the consequences. Slowly, Mandel reveals how her characters struggle to align their stations in life with their visions for what they could be. For Vincent, the promise of transformation comes when she's offered a stint with Alkaitis in "the kingdom of money." Here, the rules of reality are different and time expands, allowing her to pursue video art others find pointless. For Alkaitis, reality itself is too much to bear. In his jail cell, he is confronted by the ghosts of his victims and escapes into "the counterlife," a soothing alternate reality in which he avoided punishment. It's in these dreamy sections that Mandel's ideas about guilt and responsibility, wealth and comfort, the real and the imagined, begin to cohere. At its heart, this is a ghost story in which every boundary is blurred, from the moral to the physical. How far will Alkaitis go to deny responsibility for his actions? And how quickly will his wealth corrupt the ambitions of those in proximity to it? In luminous prose, Mandel shows how easy it is to become caught in a web of unintended consequences and how disastrous it can be when such fragile bonds shatter under pressure.

A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

Pub Date: March 24, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-52114-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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THE POET

Connelly takes a break from his Harry Bosch police novels (The Last Coyote, p. 328, etc.) for something even more intense: a reporter's single-minded pursuit of the serial killer who murdered his twin. Even his buddies in the Denver PD thought Sean McEvoy's shooting in the backseat of his car looked like a classic cop suicide, right clown to the motive: his despondency over his failure to clear the murder of a University of Denver student. But as Sean's twin brother, Jack, of the Rocky Mountain News, notices tiny clues that marked Sean's death as murder, his suspicions about the dying message Sean scrawled inside his fogged windshield—"Out of space. Out of time"—alert him to a series of eerily similar killings stretching from Sarasota to Albuquerque. The pattern, Jack realizes, involves two sets of murders: a series of sex killings of children, and then the executions (duly camouflaged as suicides) of the investigating police officers. Armed with what he's dug up, Jack heads off to Washington, to the Law Enforcement Foundation and the FBI. The real fireworks begin as Jack trades his official silence for an inside role in the investigation, only to find himself shut out of both the case and the story. From then on in, Jack, falling hard for Rachel Walling, the FBI agent in charge of the case, rides his Bureau connections like a bucking bronco—even as one William Gladden, a pedophile picked up on a low-level charge in Santa Monica, schemes to make bail before the police can run his prints through the national computer, then waits with sick patience for his chance at his next victim. The long-awaited confrontation between Jack and Gladden comes at an LA video store; but even afterward, Jack's left with devastating questions about the case. Connelly wrings suspense out of every possible aspect of Jack's obsessive hunt for his brother's killer. Prepare to be played like a violin.

Pub Date: Jan. 15, 1996

ISBN: 0-316-15398-2

Page Count: 440

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1995

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