THE QUEEN OF PARIS

More morality play than fashion fable; a reminder that fame does not always guarantee goodness or likability.

Coco Chanel schemes to save her company in Ewen’s (An Accidental Life, 2013, etc.) novel based on the life of the fashion icon.

1940, France: Coco Chanel gets the devastating news that the man who financed her company and paved the way for her iconic success in the fashion industry has stolen the formula for Chanel No. 5. Betrayed and self-righteous, Coco does everything she can think of to thwart his plan, first by trying to buy out France’s jasmine supply, and then by mounting legal countermeasures. One of her darkest weapons: her willingness to challenge Pierre’s rights based on the fact that he is Jewish, for Paris soon falls under Nazi control. As she desperately fights to save her company, Coco also tries to make a deal with her lover, a Nazi spy, to save her nephew (really her son). Spatz agrees to help, as long as Coco will first travel to Spain, there to spy on her vast network of friends and acquaintances and uncover secret information that could bring Spain into the war as a German ally. Ewen’s Coco is a proud and image-conscious character, sprung from a painful, lonely childhood to become a self-made triumph. A Machiavellian madame, she is quite willing to live comfortably in the Hotel Ritz in Paris, surrounded by Nazi officers, as the rest of her country falls to ruin, as the Jews are rounded up and “counted” and then begin disappearing. She’s a hard character to like, but her uncompromising sense of self-worth does inspire grudging admiration at times. Unfortunately, this independent stance indirectly facilitates the horrors of the Holocaust. Perhaps the most uncomfortable effect of Ewen’s story, then, is the way it makes the reader wonder: Would I have understood the true horror of the Nazis’ plans any better than Coco? Would I have taken action, or would I, too, have let the war pass me by?

More morality play than fashion fable; a reminder that fame does not always guarantee goodness or likability.

Pub Date: April 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9825-4684-7

Page Count: 428

Publisher: Blackstone

Review Posted Online: Jan. 26, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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THE UNSEEN

A deeply satisfying novel, both sensuously vivid and remarkably poignant.

Norwegian novelist Jacobsen folds a quietly powerful coming-of-age story into a rendition of daily life on one of Norway’s rural islands a hundred years ago in a novel that was shortlisted for the 2017 Man Booker International Prize.

Ingrid Barrøy, her father, Hans, mother, Maria, grandfather Martin, and slightly addled aunt Barbro are the owners and sole inhabitants of Barrøy Island, one of numerous small family-owned islands in an area of Norway barely touched by the outside world. The novel follows Ingrid from age 3 through a carefree early childhood of endless small chores, simple pleasures, and unquestioned familial love into her more ambivalent adolescence attending school off the island and becoming aware of the outside world, then finally into young womanhood when she must make difficult choices. Readers will share Ingrid’s adoration of her father, whose sense of responsibility conflicts with his romantic nature. He adores Maria, despite what he calls her “la-di-da” ways, and is devoted to Ingrid. Twice he finds work on the mainland for his sister, Barbro, but, afraid she’ll be unhappy, he brings her home both times. Rooted to the land where he farms and tied to the sea where he fishes, Hans struggles to maintain his family’s hardscrabble existence on an island where every repair is a struggle against the elements. But his efforts are Sisyphean. Life as a Barrøy on Barrøy remains precarious. Changes do occur in men’s and women’s roles, reflected in part by who gets a literal chair to sit on at meals, while world crises—a war, Sweden’s financial troubles—have unexpected impact. Yet the drama here occurs in small increments, season by season, following nature’s rhythm through deaths and births, moments of joy and deep sorrow. The translator’s decision to use roughly translated phrases in conversation—i.e., “Tha’s goen’ nohvar” for "You’re going nowhere")—slows the reading down at first but ends up drawing readers more deeply into the world of Barrøy and its prickly, intensely alive inhabitants.

A deeply satisfying novel, both sensuously vivid and remarkably poignant.

Pub Date: April 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-77196-319-0

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Biblioasis

Review Posted Online: Jan. 12, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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A GENTLEMAN IN MOSCOW

A masterly encapsulation of modern Russian history, this book more than fulfills the promise of Towles' stylish debut, Rules...

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Sentenced to house arrest in Moscow's Metropol Hotel by a Bolshevik tribunal for writing a poem deemed to encourage revolt, Count Alexander Rostov nonetheless lives the fullest of lives, discovering the depths of his humanity.

Inside the elegant Metropol, located near the Kremlin and the Bolshoi, the Count slowly adjusts to circumstances as a "Former Person." He makes do with the attic room, to which he is banished after residing for years in a posh third-floor suite. A man of refined taste in wine, food, and literature, he strives to maintain a daily routine, exploring the nooks and crannies of the hotel, bonding with staff, accepting the advances of attractive women, and forming what proves to be a deeply meaningful relationship with a spirited young girl, Nina. "We are bound to find comfort from the notion that it takes generations for a way of life to fade," says the companionable narrator. For the Count, that way of life ultimately becomes less about aristocratic airs and privilege than generosity and devotion. Spread across four decades, this is in all ways a great novel, a nonstop pleasure brimming with charm, personal wisdom, and philosophic insight. Though Stalin and Khrushchev make their presences felt, Towles largely treats politics as a dark, distant shadow. The chill of the political events occurring outside the Metropol is certainly felt, but for the Count and his friends, the passage of time is "like the turn of a kaleidoscope." Not for nothing is Casablanca his favorite film. This is a book in which the cruelties of the age can't begin to erase the glories of real human connection and the memories it leaves behind.

A masterly encapsulation of modern Russian history, this book more than fulfills the promise of Towles' stylish debut, Rules of Civility (2011).

Pub Date: Sept. 6, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-670-02619-7

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: June 20, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2016

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