Only race car aficionados may be willing to wade through the philosophic pretensions and flat prose.

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THE AFTERLIFE OF EMERSON TANG

A journalist specializing in auto design, Champa debuts with a novel about a classic car and the symbolism it holds for a range of characters.

Thirty-something Beth Corvid was originally hired to be the archivist of a photography collection owned by Emerson Tang, a half-Chinese/half-WASP multimillionaire. Only a few years older than Beth, Emerson is now dying of a never named incurable disease, and while there is no romance between them, there is love and devotion, so Emerson has put her in charge of his health care and his life in general. When the aging French artist Hélène Moreau, famous for her futurist “Speed” paintings created by race car tires during the 1950s, approaches Emerson to buy his 1954 Beacon, Beth is surprised to find out he has purchased the car without her knowledge. Hélène wants the car, or specifically its engine, to jump-start her creativity, which has dissipated. Hélène befriends Beth, but Beth doesn’t trust her motives or her sincerity. When it becomes clear that the chassis to Emerson’s Beacon is missing its original engine, Emerson suspects Hélene. He sends Beth to search for clues to its whereabouts in Germany, where the Beacon line is about to be relaunched. There, she meets Hélène’s former lover with whom she once raced in the Beacon. She also meets Miguel Beacon, whose grandfather founded the original Beacon manufacturing company. Miguel agrees to help her find the engine. Soon, the four characters' lives are intersecting if not intertwining as the search for the engine moves to California. Meanwhile, Emerson’s health is breaking down rapidly, and Beth, whose own near-death experience as a small child has left her afraid to commit fully to life, is finding herself increasingly attracted to Miguel. By the ending, in which a host of coincidences explain the convoluted plot, each of the characters has realized what the car represents in his/her life.

Only race car aficionados may be willing to wade through the philosophic pretensions and flat prose.

Pub Date: March 12, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-547-79278-1

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: Jan. 1, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2013

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Though gripping, even moving at times, the novel doesn’t do justice to the solemn history from which it is drawn.

CILKA'S JOURNEY

In this follow-up to the widely read The Tattooist of Auschwitz (2018), a young concentration camp survivor is sentenced to 15 years’ hard labor in a Russian gulag.

The novel begins with the liberation of Auschwitz by Soviet troops in 1945. In the camp, 16-year-old Cecilia "Cilka" Klein—one of the Jewish prisoners introduced in Tattooist—was forced to become the mistress of two Nazi commandants. The Russians accuse her of collaborating—they also think she might be a spy—and send her to the Vorkuta Gulag in Siberia. There, another nightmarish scenario unfolds: Cilka, now 18, and the other women in her hut are routinely raped at night by criminal-class prisoners with special “privileges”; by day, the near-starving women haul coal from the local mines in frigid weather. The narrative is intercut with Cilka’s grim memories of Auschwitz as well as her happier recollections of life with her parents and sister before the war. At Vorkuta, her lot improves when she starts work as a nurse trainee at the camp hospital under the supervision of a sympathetic woman doctor who tries to protect her. Cilka also begins to feel the stirrings of romantic love for Alexandr, a fellow prisoner. Though believing she is cursed, Cilka shows great courage and fortitude throughout: Indeed, her ability to endure trauma—as well her heroism in ministering to the sick and wounded—almost defies credulity. The novel is ostensibly based on a true story, but a central element in the book—Cilka’s sexual relationship with the SS officers—has been challenged by the Auschwitz Memorial Research Center and by the real Cilka’s stepson, who says it is false. As in Tattooist, the writing itself is workmanlike at best and often overwrought.

Though gripping, even moving at times, the novel doesn’t do justice to the solemn history from which it is drawn.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-26570-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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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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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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