An effortlessly memorable novel.

THE NIGHT OCEAN

A many-layered literary mystery about identity, obsession, and science fiction.

Marina Willett’s husband, Charlie, is gone. After a scandal involving a book he’s written, Charlie leaves a mental hospital in the Berkshires and—presumably—walks into a lake to drown himself. But Marina, a psychologist, isn’t sure he’s really dead. For one thing, his body has never been discovered. For another, before his death, Charlie had become obsessed with an anthropologist named Robert Barlow—who Charlie believes faked his death after a scandal. And so begins the labyrinthine plot in which Marina narrates the back story of her marriage and explains how first Charlie and then she, once Charlie goes missing, became obsessed with an elderly Canadian who may or may not be Barlow in disguise. The analytical Marina is the ideal narrator to ground readers through the vertiginous narrative, which covers nearly 100 years and uses New York, Florida, Providence, and Canada as its backdrops. The breadth of La Farge's research and the specificity of his historical details are impressive: we enter the worlds of science-fiction fandom, internet trolls, literary hoaxes, and ancient Mexican civilizations as La Farge (Luminous Airplanes, 2011, etc.) deftly weaves in famous figures like H.P Lovecraft, Isaac Asimov, and William S. Burroughs. Only a virtuoso could pull off a story so intricately plotted and so full of big ideas about morality and truth and have the effect of not being ponderous. La Farge is this virtuoso, folding stories inside stories with ease. But even more important than the meticulous craft evident in each sentence is the depth that La Farge achieves in creating even minor characters. No matter how messy the moral choices, or how frustrating the character motivations, La Farge’s gift is such that we feel we understand these characters as well as we understand the people we see every day.

An effortlessly memorable novel.

Pub Date: March 7, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-101-98108-5

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 7, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2016

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THE TATTOOIST OF AUSCHWITZ

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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ANIMAL FARM

A FAIRY STORY

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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