Encompassing the lives of women in the 20th century, this sprawling saga is tender and satisfying, with a heartbreaking end.

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THE SISTERS

A single tragic event shapes four generations of American women in this accomplished and poignant debut.

It is 1927 and since their mother’s death, Mabel and Bertie rely on each other in the face of their stepfather’s abuse. Young Bertie tries to avoid his drunken rage, but Mabel maintains the peace for the price of her soul—Jim calls her little wife, rapes her regularly and, for her 16th birthday, takes her to the city to pose for pornography. When Mabel notices Jim’s eye wander to Bertie, she knows she must act. With the help of Bertie’s sweetheart Wallace, he and Mabel concoct a scheme to release the sisters from their stepfather’s tyranny. After her graduation ceremony, Bertie comes home to find Jim Butcher hung and a note implying that Mabel and Wallace have run away together. Bertie, however, never got the letter intended for her, or the enclosed train ticket to take her to her sister and beau. Crushed by the perceived betrayal, Bertie leaves town and marries Hans, finding security if not love. They make it through the Depression and have Alma and then Rainey, but nothing can ease Bertie’s hardness, and the letters Mabel sends go unopened. Mabel ends up in Chicago, becoming a photographer, and adopts a little girl named Daisy (actually she steals her away), whose father is molesting her. Mabel never gives up hope of finding her beloved sister, and this perhaps saves her and Daisy from the kind of aching unhappiness that infects Bertie and her daughters. Alma marries a wealthy, unkind doctor and has a son who grows up to be just like dad, while devoting her life to becoming the perfect hostess. Rainey has the bad luck of getting pregnant by Carl, a closeted homosexual. Her daughters Lynn (who never gets over being separated from her father) and Grace, who crafts body armor after her Vietnam vet husband dies, continues the legacy of discord born of an undelivered letter.

Encompassing the lives of women in the 20th century, this sprawling saga is tender and satisfying, with a heartbreaking end.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-312-54270-2

Page Count: 336

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Sept. 20, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2011

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Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

THEN SHE WAS GONE

Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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Though gripping, even moving at times, the novel doesn’t do justice to the solemn history from which it is drawn.

CILKA'S JOURNEY

In this follow-up to the widely read The Tattooist of Auschwitz (2018), a young concentration camp survivor is sentenced to 15 years’ hard labor in a Russian gulag.

The novel begins with the liberation of Auschwitz by Soviet troops in 1945. In the camp, 16-year-old Cecilia "Cilka" Klein—one of the Jewish prisoners introduced in Tattooist—was forced to become the mistress of two Nazi commandants. The Russians accuse her of collaborating—they also think she might be a spy—and send her to the Vorkuta Gulag in Siberia. There, another nightmarish scenario unfolds: Cilka, now 18, and the other women in her hut are routinely raped at night by criminal-class prisoners with special “privileges”; by day, the near-starving women haul coal from the local mines in frigid weather. The narrative is intercut with Cilka’s grim memories of Auschwitz as well as her happier recollections of life with her parents and sister before the war. At Vorkuta, her lot improves when she starts work as a nurse trainee at the camp hospital under the supervision of a sympathetic woman doctor who tries to protect her. Cilka also begins to feel the stirrings of romantic love for Alexandr, a fellow prisoner. Though believing she is cursed, Cilka shows great courage and fortitude throughout: Indeed, her ability to endure trauma—as well her heroism in ministering to the sick and wounded—almost defies credulity. The novel is ostensibly based on a true story, but a central element in the book—Cilka’s sexual relationship with the SS officers—has been challenged by the Auschwitz Memorial Research Center and by the real Cilka’s stepson, who says it is false. As in Tattooist, the writing itself is workmanlike at best and often overwrought.

Though gripping, even moving at times, the novel doesn’t do justice to the solemn history from which it is drawn.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-26570-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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