A smart and touchingly sympathetic fictional portrayal of an enigmatic woman.

LADY BE GOOD

THE LIFE AND TIMES OF DOROTHY HALE

A historical novel about the once-famous American socialite Dorothy Hale.

Former NBC News producer Hamilton has chosen a subject of her debut novel who’s likely best remembered today as the focus of a famous 1939 painting by Frida Kahlo. In the 1920s and ’30s, the intelligent, attractive, and sophisticated Hale ran in glamorous circles that included future member of Congress and ambassador Clare Boothe Brokaw (later Luce). Hale tried to break into a career in show business, and history has largely judged her as a thwarted figure—someone whose lack of success in entertainment or in love (she was divorced once and had several ill-starred affairs) eventually drove her to leap from her Central Park South apartment window to her death—the very act that Kahlo immortalized in her aforementioned work, The Suicide of Dorothy Hale. In this novel, Hamilton sets out to tell a much fuller story, taking readers on a lightly fictionalized tour of Hale’s upbringing and spending a satisfying amount of time on her complex, loving second marriage to artist Gardner Hale. The narrative also lavishes attention on Dorothy’s increasingly deep friendship with Clare, who manages to do in this novel what she always managed to do in real life—get all the best lines: “Courage is the ladder on which all other virtues mount,” she writes to Dorothy at one point. At another moment that showcases Hamilton’s ear for conversation and talent for pacing, Gardner tells Dorothy, “You know of course that I am happier than I’ve ever been and will remain so if it’s just the two of us forevermore,” which prompts Dorothy to remember one of Luce’s remarks: “Forevermore is shorter than you think.” Overall, the author’s narrative is smooth and invitingly readable, wearing its clearly considerable research lightly; her version of Dorothy’s doomed relationship with President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s adviser and Works Progress Administration administrator Harry Hopkins is surprisingly gripping. The narrative never stoops to easy renditions, and as a result, Dorothy emerges as both a charismatic and vulnerable figure.

A smart and touchingly sympathetic fictional portrayal of an enigmatic woman.

Pub Date: March 31, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-64-663272-5

Page Count: 298

Publisher: Koehler Books

Review Posted Online: May 24, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2021

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YOSL RAKOVER TALKS TO GOD

A remarkable testament to faith in the face of suffering. Zvi Kolitz is a Lithuanian Jew who left Europe in 1940 for Jerusalem, where he built a life as a daring Zionist freedom fighter. Just over a year after WWII ended, he wrote a gut-wrenching short story, —Yosl Rakover Talks to God,— the last confessions of a fictional Jewish man who died in the Warsaw Ghetto. The story ran in Di Yiddishe Tsaytung, a Jewish paper in Buenos Aires, on September 25, 1946. Later, Kolitz moved to New York, penned a few obscure books, contributed columns to The Jewish Week and Der Algemeine Journal, and lectured at Yeshiva University (you—ll still find him there each Wednesday). His short story, however, got separated from its author. It began to circulate, sans Kolitz’s byline, as a true testimony unearthed in the Holocaust’s aftermath. In 1954, Di Goldene Keyt, a Yiddish quarterly in Tel Aviv, ran —Yosl Rakover— as —an authentic document.— The next year, it was broadcast on a Berlin radio station, and was run in the Parisian Zionist journal La Terre RetrouvÇe. Thomas Mann praised the text for offering a rare glimpse into the human condition. This volume reunites author and story, laying to rest any rumors that the document was written by someone who died in the Warsaw Ghetto. The story could stand alone: Rakover, who boldly privileges Torah over God, declares that despite everything God has done to —make me cease to believe in You . . . I die exactly as I have lived, an unshakeable believer in You.— This new edition also includes an essay by Paul Badde about Kolitz, a piece by Levinas about —Yosl Rakover,— and Leon Weiseltier’s somewhat anticlimactic reply to Levinas. The short story remains a fiction, but, as Levinas reminds us, that does not undermine its truth: Indeed, it is true as —only fiction can be.—

Pub Date: Nov. 5, 1999

ISBN: 0-375-40451-1

Page Count: 112

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1999

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Curiously leaden, achieving neither the gravitas of history nor the liveliness of fiction.

THE BLACK DEATH

A PERSONAL HISTORY

Wan, long-winded “docudrama” about a rural parish in mid-14th-century England devastated by the plague.

In order to explore the “intimate social history” of villagers at the time of the Black Death, Hatcher (Economic and Social History/Cambridge Univ.) chose Walsham le Willows in Suffolk because of its exceptionally good local records, then filled in the gaps with a fictional narrative employing as protagonist a parish priest he calls Master John. The author moves chronologically, from mid-1345, when Walsham’s 1,000-odd inhabitants struggled to subsist in a makeshift agrarian economy, through 1350, when the long-feared pestilence decimated half the hamlet, to the weeks and months after, when the survivors took stock. Each chapter is introduced by a factual précis, then the main text takes the reader through the paces of Master John’s duties in ministering to his flock, particularly in assisting the dying sinner to “a good death.” As he became privy to testimonies of the plague’s encroachment on England, Master John had to address his parishioners’ growing panic and assure them this scourge of God could be mollified by confession, penitential processions, pilgrimages to sacred sites and Masses. Moreover, he relayed chilling missives from the bishops and King Edward III on how to save and protect the realm. Hatcher effectively portrays the collective hysteria that gripped the land; when the disease finally struck around Easter 1349, people frequently refused to go near the dying and dead. Once the plague subsided by summer, it “let loose powerful forces that threatened upheaval in the social order, affecting not just peasants and laborers but clergy and lords.” It wasn’t all bad news: Survivors sorted inheritances, and wages soared, offering new opportunities, especially for women.

Curiously leaden, achieving neither the gravitas of history nor the liveliness of fiction.

Pub Date: June 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-306-81571-3

Page Count: 330

Publisher: Da Capo

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2008

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