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THE WOMAN WITH THE BLUE STAR

Powerful but in need of a polish.

In Nazi-occupied Kraków, a friendship between two young women, one Jewish and one Polish, alters the destinies of both.

The present-day prologue introduces an unidentified 70-something woman who is visiting Poland, trying to work up the nerve to make contact with a 90-ish Kraków resident. The novel proper alternates the first-person narratives of Sadie Gault and Ella Stepanek, both 19. A mass deportation of Kraków’s Jews in 1943 drives Sadie’s father to take desperate measures to avoid the camps. With the help of Pawel, a Polish sewer worker, Sadie and her parents escape into Kraków’s sewer tunnels, but Sadie's father drowns along the way. To avoid capture, Sadie and her mother—who's pregnant—must hide in a small chamber inside the sewer system along with the Rosenbergs, a more devout family. Meanwhile, Ella’s father died defending Poland, and her stepmother, Ana, is now welcoming German officers to Ella’s family home (where she lives at Ana’s sufferance). Then one day, walking through a market, Ella spots Sadie through a grate, and they make eye contact. She returns the next day, and gradually the acquaintance between the young women warms into friendship. Sewer living gets even more challenging when Pawel, sole source of food and supplies, is arrested. Ella, aided by her resistance fighter boyfriend, smuggles food to the refugees. Sadie and young Saul Rosenberg overcome their religious differences and fall in love. After Sadie’s mother gives birth, the infant’s wails force the fugitives to make a terrible choice. All these well-drawn characters have too few options, which they debate endlessly and repetitiously. The description of how the sewer dwellers exist for months in a small, bare, filthy space is sketchy. The book's timeline can feel vague—the main action is happening in 1943, but the historical circumstances suggest 1944. There are continuity glitches. At the beginning of the book, Ella notes that her father left no will, but much later, the will turns up with no comment. Contemporary parlance creeps in: “we can do this,” “a few months tops.” Still, there are gripping scenes, particularly toward the end, and a poignant epilogue.

Powerful but in need of a polish.

Pub Date: May 4, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-778-38938-5

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Park Row Books

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2021

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THE WOMEN

A dramatic, vividly detailed reconstruction of a little-known aspect of the Vietnam War.

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A young woman’s experience as a nurse in Vietnam casts a deep shadow over her life.

When we learn that the farewell party in the opening scene is for Frances “Frankie” McGrath’s older brother—“a golden boy, a wild child who could make the hardest heart soften”—who is leaving to serve in Vietnam in 1966, we feel pretty certain that poor Finley McGrath is marked for death. Still, it’s a surprise when the fateful doorbell rings less than 20 pages later. His death inspires his sister to enlist as an Army nurse, and this turn of events is just the beginning of a roller coaster of a plot that’s impressive and engrossing if at times a bit formulaic. Hannah renders the experiences of the young women who served in Vietnam in all-encompassing detail. The first half of the book, set in gore-drenched hospital wards, mildewed dorm rooms, and boozy officers’ clubs, is an exciting read, tracking the transformation of virginal, uptight Frankie into a crack surgical nurse and woman of the world. Her tensely platonic romance with a married surgeon ends when his broken, unbreathing body is airlifted out by helicopter; she throws her pent-up passion into a wild affair with a soldier who happens to be her dead brother’s best friend. In the second part of the book, after the war, Frankie seems to experience every possible bad break. A drawback of the story is that none of the secondary characters in her life are fully three-dimensional: Her dismissive, chauvinistic father and tight-lipped, pill-popping mother, her fellow nurses, and her various love interests are more plot devices than people. You’ll wish you could have gone to Vegas and placed a bet on the ending—while it’s against all the odds, you’ll see it coming from a mile away.

A dramatic, vividly detailed reconstruction of a little-known aspect of the Vietnam War.

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2024

ISBN: 9781250178633

Page Count: 480

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2023

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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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