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SLEEP OF MEMORY

A future biographer won’t be able to build much of a timeline of the events Modiano so evocatively describes, relics of a...

A languid, novelistic portrait of the artist—winner of the Nobel Prize in literature in 2014—as a young man.

“Those people you often wonder about, whose disappearance is shrouded in mystery, a mystery you’ll never be able to solve—you’d be surprised to learn that they simply changed neighborhoods.” So writes Modiano (So You Don't Get Lost in the Neighborhood, 2015, etc.), a master of postwar noir, blending Alan Furst’s matter-of-fact cynicism with Camus-ian aphorism. Here, he reflects on the era when, not yet 20, it began to dawn on him that women are very interesting creatures and that not everything is as it seems. “In the winter of 1964, in one of those dawn cafés—as I called them—when any hope seems warranted as long as it was still dark, I would meet up with a certain Geneviève Dalame.” Geneviève is a woman of parts, into the occult, who knows odd things and people; she lives in a hotel, gets up even earlier than the dawn café–haunting Modiano, and isn’t above smuggling interesting things (e.g., the log of an Edith Piaf recording session) out of the office to show him. The time seems fraught with—well, if not danger, then certainly change. As the author observes, it was a time when an old world was drawing to an end and a new one was about to be born, in which people no longer lived in hotels and joined Gurdjieff study groups. Geneviève is not without her own dangers, including a junior-mobster brother who threatens Modiano. And so are other women, one of whom, "whose name I hesitate to write,” just happens to “accidentally” shoot a mobster. Half a century later, they are all memories receding into the past, with no madeleine but silence to recall them.

A future biographer won’t be able to build much of a timeline of the events Modiano so evocatively describes, relics of a world that no longer exists. An elegant work of suggestion and misdirection.

Pub Date: Oct. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-300-23830-3

Page Count: 136

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: July 30, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2018

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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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THE TATTOOIST OF AUSCHWITZ

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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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 16, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2018

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