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ESCAPE FROM THE CZAR

A realistic, action-packed but uneven war tale.

A Lithuanian factory worker tries to protect his family from the violent forces of history in this novella set in the late 19th century.

Povilas Glamzo grows up on a farm in Lithuania, the son of a serf, Kazimerias, who seems destined to follow in his footsteps. But Povilas longs to live a freer, more accomplished life, and wants to avoid the drudgery of serfdom as well as the possibility of military conscription. His dream is to go out on his own and find employment at a Russian factory, a goal brought to fruition by his father’s master, Lord Nicholas Serovich, who pays his way to St. Petersburg. Povilas finds work quickly and is thrilled to join the ranks of the proletariat, but becomes disillusioned by its limited possibilities, finally seeing it as another form of serfdom. In earnest language, the protagonist laments his lot: “Men grumble for a reason. There is so much unrest and discontent here in Russia. I know why. I can see the reasons all around me. I’m coughing so much. I have to leave St. Petersburg. There must be something better out there. My dream of doing something important with my life hasn’t been fulfilled here. It’s been only a stepping-stone. But where do I go from here? God, please answer my prayer.” While he hopes to eventually become an engineer, he moves to Latvia to take a job as a metallurgist making cannonballs, a lucrative position. He also marries Sophie Zagel, the “village beauty,” and starts a family. Yet all of this is threatened when Russia and Japan go to war, and Povilas is recruited by the Imperial Russian Navy to make torpedoes for submarines. He dares not decline the offer for fear what it could mean for his family’s fate.

Velho’s tableau of the political tumult of the times is meticulously authentic—she captures with great verisimilitude the convulsions that roiled the lives of men like Povilas. In addition, this novella—not quite 100 pages—is based on the life of the author’s grandfather, and the loving attention she directs toward the subject is evident on every page. Finally, Povilas’ life is extraordinarily dramatic, the stuff of a grand cinematic saga—there is an abundance of eventful scenes packed into this short work of fiction. Unfortunately, Velho’s writing, which can be a bit awkward, makes full immersion in the story sometimes difficult. Her prose is often clumsy when she expresses Povilas’ own ruminations: “I have no particular loyalty to Russia, except that they control us. What would it mean for my family if Japan defeated Russia? This offer could change our lives—for better or worse. Submarines and torpedoes, OK. Leaving my wife and our children? That will break my heart. What if I don’t take the offer? What will the Russians do to us?

A realistic, action-packed but uneven war tale.

Pub Date: March 27, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-66555-396-4

Page Count: 114

Publisher: AuthorHouse

Review Posted Online: June 23, 2023

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THE WOMEN

A dramatic, vividly detailed reconstruction of a little-known aspect of the Vietnam War.

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A young woman’s experience as a nurse in Vietnam casts a deep shadow over her life.

When we learn that the farewell party in the opening scene is for Frances “Frankie” McGrath’s older brother—“a golden boy, a wild child who could make the hardest heart soften”—who is leaving to serve in Vietnam in 1966, we feel pretty certain that poor Finley McGrath is marked for death. Still, it’s a surprise when the fateful doorbell rings less than 20 pages later. His death inspires his sister to enlist as an Army nurse, and this turn of events is just the beginning of a roller coaster of a plot that’s impressive and engrossing if at times a bit formulaic. Hannah renders the experiences of the young women who served in Vietnam in all-encompassing detail. The first half of the book, set in gore-drenched hospital wards, mildewed dorm rooms, and boozy officers’ clubs, is an exciting read, tracking the transformation of virginal, uptight Frankie into a crack surgical nurse and woman of the world. Her tensely platonic romance with a married surgeon ends when his broken, unbreathing body is airlifted out by helicopter; she throws her pent-up passion into a wild affair with a soldier who happens to be her dead brother’s best friend. In the second part of the book, after the war, Frankie seems to experience every possible bad break. A drawback of the story is that none of the secondary characters in her life are fully three-dimensional: Her dismissive, chauvinistic father and tight-lipped, pill-popping mother, her fellow nurses, and her various love interests are more plot devices than people. You’ll wish you could have gone to Vegas and placed a bet on the ending—while it’s against all the odds, you’ll see it coming from a mile away.

A dramatic, vividly detailed reconstruction of a little-known aspect of the Vietnam War.

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2024

ISBN: 9781250178633

Page Count: 480

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2023

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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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