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DISORIENTAL

Authentic, ambitious, richly layered, and very readable.

French-Iranian screenwriter Djavadi blends the fates of individuals and families with the history of modern Iran in this award-winning debut novel about exile, integration, and the human cost of political opposition.

Narrated by Kimiâ Sadr, youngest daughter in a family of intellectuals and political dissidents, the narrative jumps from a contemporary fertility clinic in Paris to her childhood in Iran. "I'm the granddaughter of a woman born in a harem," she explains, recounting the dramatic birth, during a windstorm, of blue-eyed Nour, who later bears six sons in an arranged marriage, reads Dostoevsky, eventually leaves her husband, and dies the day Kimiâ is born. History, both familial and national, swirls across every page. Djavadi works hard to keep the reader oriented within the welter of stories and characters: "Just be patient a little bit longer, dear Reader." "Since we can, let's jump on a literary magic carpet and zip through time and space." Well-placed footnotes help, the tone often gently mocking. Though there's plenty of tragedy here, there's humor as well. "Life is such that, even in the darkest depths of the drama, there is always still a little room left for the absurd." One of the narrator's recurring frustrations, which Djavadi conveys bitingly well, is Western ignorance about Iran. Woven into the gripping depictions of political unrest, family crises, national upheaval, and personal secrets is an excellent primer on the history of modern Iran. Djavadi knows her material cold and every scene rings true, from the bombing of the family's Tehran apartment by the secret police, to an escape across the mountains of Kurdistan on horseback to their reception at the French Embassy in Istanbul. Most affecting of all is her hard-won understanding of exile: "To really integrate into a culture...you have to disintegrate first." It is through the tales of her family that the narrator survives. Of her forebears Kimiâ says, "After so much time and distance, it's not their world that flows in my veins anymore, or their languages or traditions or beliefs, or even their fears, but their stories."

Authentic, ambitious, richly layered, and very readable.

Pub Date: April 17, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-60945-451-7

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Europa Editions

Review Posted Online: Feb. 5, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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THE NIGHTINGALE

Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

Hannah’s new novel is an homage to the extraordinary courage and endurance of Frenchwomen during World War II.

In 1995, an elderly unnamed widow is moving into an Oregon nursing home on the urging of her controlling son, Julien, a surgeon. This trajectory is interrupted when she receives an invitation to return to France to attend a ceremony honoring passeurs: people who aided the escape of others during the war. Cut to spring, 1940: Viann has said goodbye to husband Antoine, who's off to hold the Maginot line against invading Germans. She returns to tending her small farm, Le Jardin, in the Loire Valley, teaching at the local school and coping with daughter Sophie’s adolescent rebellion. Soon, that world is upended: The Germans march into Paris and refugees flee south, overrunning Viann’s land. Her long-estranged younger sister, Isabelle, who has been kicked out of multiple convent schools, is sent to Le Jardin by Julien, their father in Paris, a drunken, decidedly unpaternal Great War veteran. As the depredations increase in the occupied zone—food rationing, systematic looting, and the billeting of a German officer, Capt. Beck, at Le Jardin—Isabelle’s outspokenness is a liability. She joins the Resistance, volunteering for dangerous duty: shepherding downed Allied airmen across the Pyrenees to Spain. Code-named the Nightingale, Isabelle will rescue many before she's captured. Meanwhile, Viann’s journey from passive to active resistance is less dramatic but no less wrenching. Hannah vividly demonstrates how the Nazis, through starvation, intimidation and barbarity both casual and calculated, demoralized the French, engineering a community collapse that enabled the deportations and deaths of more than 70,000 Jews. Hannah’s proven storytelling skills are ideally suited to depicting such cataclysmic events, but her tendency to sentimentalize undermines the gravitas of this tale.

Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

Pub Date: Feb. 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-312-57722-3

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 19, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2014

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THE TATTOOIST OF AUSCHWITZ

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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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 16, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2018

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