History writ large, bold, vivid, and real: mesmerizing and authentic.


Winner of the Prix Goncourt and Grand Prix Roman de l’ Académie Française, Rambaud’s first novel completes a job Balzac long intended to do but never did: retelling Napoleon’s 1809 battle with, and defeat at the hands of, the Austrians in a fight visible from Vienna’s walls and known now as Aspern-Essling for the villages of those names.

Like war stories from the Iliad to War and Peace, this one again is conventional of plot as it follows three nights and two days in the lives of assorted figures—of high station and low—who either fight in the battle or are swept somehow into its huge vortex (as, one may add, readers will be too). Here are Napoleon himself; Major General Berthier, his right-hand man; the semi-piratic but courageous Masséna, duke of Rivoli; the prim and dandyish Edmonde de Périgord; and the engaging, battle-wearied, near-despairing Marshall Lannes. Toward the more middle rank of society are Colonel Louis-François Lejeune, artist, aide, officer, and perhaps central character; his inamorata Anna Krauss, denizen of imperial Vienna, who will run off with another; and Lejeune’s friend, the also-smitten Henri Beyle, “who had not yet started calling himself Stendhal.” As well, there are the plain soldiers—like Pacotte, or the young Vincent Paradis, or the toughened fighter Fayolle, raised in the slums of Paris—who will fight and, in any number of ghastly ways, die. For it’s the battle itself, enormous, dreadful, like some huge and perverted force of nature beyond the control of any man—even of the Emperor—that is the true determiner of all things here, compelling men to rush into death, undergo sufferings and atrocities far beyond the credible, and then, if need be, do it again. The horrors—including those of the amputation-obsessed field surgeons—will fade no time soon, as neither, credit to Rambaud’s great learning, will the detailed feel, sense, and pulse of politics and history that underlie the whole.

History writ large, bold, vivid, and real: mesmerizing and authentic.

Pub Date: May 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-8021-1662-0

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2000

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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 17, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2018

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A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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