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THE BOOK OF ELEANOR

Historical fiction for the Barbara Cartland set.

A romantic take on the powerful medieval queen.

A central figure in the 12th-century wars between France and England, Eleanor, at 15, became Duchess of Aquitaine, a wealthy and independent French province coveted by both countries. While still a teenager, she married Louis VII, a religious zealot who kept her closely confined, and after years of conflict, she persuaded the Pope to annul her marriage. Within a year she married again, this time to the brutal English Henry II. Despite bearing him eight children, the two came to hate each other. As her children grew, she persuaded them to revolt against their father, who in turn imprisoned her for 17 years, though in the end she had the last laugh, serving as regent after his death while her son, Richard the Lionhearted, crusaded in the Holy Land. Historians are silent on Eleanor’s sex life, but Kaufman (Shield of Three Lions, 1983) well understands that romance requires romance and so she invents the great Baron Rancon of Aquitaine and recounts a secret, dangerous, and passionate affair, Eleanor’s only consistent joy during years of unhappiness. Kaufman is unarguably an expert on the period, but her tale is told at the level of, say, a Hollywood epic, whose historical characters behave like modern Americans except for the funny clothes. Heroine Eleanor is a fiery queen, dazzlingly beautiful yet as skilled in statecraft and horsemanship as any man. She’s also a feminist, outraged at the treatment of women in medieval Europe. Because Kaufman doesn’t re-create a world through the narrative, she is forced to stop the action periodically and have a character to deliver a lecture on, say, the structure of feudalism (“ . .. any child knows the system of homage and overlords. My father used to call it a pyramid with the king at the top . . . ”).

Historical fiction for the Barbara Cartland set.

Pub Date: March 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-609-60906-8

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2001

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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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A LITTLE LIFE

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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Four men who meet as college roommates move to New York and spend the next three decades gaining renown in their professions—as an architect, painter, actor and lawyer—and struggling with demons in their intertwined personal lives.

Yanagihara (The People in the Trees, 2013) takes the still-bold leap of writing about characters who don’t share her background; in addition to being male, JB is African-American, Malcolm has a black father and white mother, Willem is white, and “Jude’s race was undetermined”—deserted at birth, he was raised in a monastery and had an unspeakably traumatic childhood that’s revealed slowly over the course of the book. Two of them are gay, one straight and one bisexual. There isn’t a single significant female character, and for a long novel, there isn’t much plot. There aren’t even many markers of what’s happening in the outside world; Jude moves to a loft in SoHo as a young man, but we don’t see the neighborhood change from gritty artists’ enclave to glitzy tourist destination. What we get instead is an intensely interior look at the friends’ psyches and relationships, and it’s utterly enthralling. The four men think about work and creativity and success and failure; they cook for each other, compete with each other and jostle for each other’s affection. JB bases his entire artistic career on painting portraits of his friends, while Malcolm takes care of them by designing their apartments and houses. When Jude, as an adult, is adopted by his favorite Harvard law professor, his friends join him for Thanksgiving in Cambridge every year. And when Willem becomes a movie star, they all bask in his glow. Eventually, the tone darkens and the story narrows to focus on Jude as the pain of his past cuts deep into his carefully constructed life.  

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53925-8

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 21, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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