TIGER RAG

The story of history’s most enigmatic jazz trumpeter becomes a touchstone for a troubled doctor and her daughter.

Talented poet and novelist Christopher (The Bestiary, 2007, etc.) returns to the rich vein of early-20th-century American history for his elegiac and expressive sixth novel. The book opens on a hotel room in New Orleans circa 1904, where seven musicians huddle over their instruments in stifling heat. Christopher captures this long-whispered moment perfectly, as Charles “Buddy” Bolden and his boys lay down three inspired recordings of a song known as “Number 2”—aficionados know it as “Tiger Rag” today— before fading into the night. From this point, the author folds this rumored bit of jazz history into a modern-day search for the lost cylinders. His protagonist is Ruby Cardillo, a hot mess of a divorcee who’s taken to only wearing purple and downing numerous bottles of Bordeaux. She recruits her daughter, jazz pianist and recovering addict Devon, to drive with her to New Orleans so that Ruby can deliver a speech about anesthesiology. In New York, they meet with music dealer Emmett Browne, who believes that Devon’s grandfather Valentine Owen was a compatriot of Bolden’s who may have squirreled away the legendary recordings. The manic Ruby and damaged Devon’s journey makes for fine drama, and Christopher delivers well-drawn and convincing characters in all their screwed-up glory. But the book’s wonder comes from Bolden's downward spiral into alcoholism, schizophrenia and dementia, even as Christopher captures one brief moment of clarity. “In 1931 Charles Bolden picked up where he had left off in 1906, just that once stepping back into real time by way of his music, which had thrived in the outside world while he himself was wasting away,” he writes. “It was as if, for a few minutes, without being remotely aware of it, much less imagining the possibility in such grand terms, he had been allowed to participate in his own immortality.”

Red hot and cool.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-4000-6921-7

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Dial Press

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2012

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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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Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

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ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

Doerr presents us with two intricate stories, both of which take place during World War II; late in the novel, inevitably, they intersect.

In August 1944, Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a blind 16-year-old living in the walled port city of Saint-Malo in Brittany and hoping to escape the effects of Allied bombing. D-Day took place two months earlier, and Cherbourg, Caen and Rennes have already been liberated. She’s taken refuge in this city with her great-uncle Etienne, at first a fairly frightening figure to her. Marie-Laure’s father was a locksmith and craftsman who made scale models of cities that Marie-Laure studied so she could travel around on her own. He also crafted clever and intricate boxes, within which treasures could be hidden. Parallel to the story of Marie-Laure we meet Werner and Jutta Pfennig, a brother and sister, both orphans who have been raised in the Children’s House outside Essen, in Germany. Through flashbacks we learn that Werner had been a curious and bright child who developed an obsession with radio transmitters and receivers, both in their infancies during this period. Eventually, Werner goes to a select technical school and then, at 18, into the Wehrmacht, where his technical aptitudes are recognized and he’s put on a team trying to track down illegal radio transmissions. Etienne and Marie-Laure are responsible for some of these transmissions, but Werner is intrigued since what she’s broadcasting is innocent—she shares her passion for Jules Verne by reading aloud 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A further subplot involves Marie-Laure’s father’s having hidden a valuable diamond, one being tracked down by Reinhold von Rumpel, a relentless German sergeant-major.

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4658-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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