A heart-rending, pellucid story of wartime survival.

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CAFÉ BUDAPEST

A Jewish refugee family arrives in 1939 Paris after a series of hairbreadth escapes in this sequel historical novel.

On the run from Nazis in Prague, the physically and psychologically traumatized Kohut family has arrived safely in the City of Light, just in time for France’s entry into World War II. In this follow-up to his semiautobiographical debut novel, The Dragontail Buttonhole (2016), Curtis picks up the story of Sophie and her husband, Willie, a displaced clothier, and their infant son, Pavel, exactly where the last installment left them. Sophie is traumatized but unbroken, young Pavel is hungry, and Willie faces the challenge of reuniting with his mother and father in England while dealing with “a crushed finger, a slashed chest and empty pockets.” Booted from their fleabag hotel by its Nazi-sympathizer owner, the Kohuts soon find that their mere presence in France is illegal: if they’re discovered, Sophie and Pavel will be sent to a refugee camp and Willie to prison. While in Paris, they survive on a couple of pawned gold coins and the occasional half-truth; in Germany, Willie had learned that “deception was an essential skill for refugees on the run.” As Sophie finds a surrogate family at the Café Budapest, Willy volunteers for France’s army of Czech exiles and does his best to contend with the “rough, vulgar camaraderie” of the ragtag recruits. Both main characters suffer unexpected joys and real dangers in their travails—including an especially sticky moment involving Pablo Picasso. The story becomes even more emotionally heightened and complex when Willy and Sophie learn of a particular man from their past in their midst. As in Curtis’ last novel, there’s a poignant and arresting precision in the descriptions that make events from 80 years in the past feel immediate: “Even the taxis-bicyclettes that carried two passengers with a child on their lap charged the equivalent of ten fresh eggs.” Indeed, there’s not a wasted word to be found in the smoothly paced text. Readers will also find themselves absorbed by the book’s gradually building suspense as the characters experience both good fortune and jeopardy.

A heart-rending, pellucid story of wartime survival.

Pub Date: April 2, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-9993631-2-6

Page Count: 444

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Jan. 1, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

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An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

THE AUTHENTICITY PROJECT

A group of strangers who live near each other in London become fast friends after writing their deepest secrets in a shared notebook.

Julian Jessop, a septuagenarian artist, is bone-crushingly lonely when he starts “The Authenticity Project”—as he titles a slim green notebook—and begins its first handwritten entry questioning how well people know each other in his tiny corner of London. After 15 years on his own mourning the loss of his beloved wife, he begins the project with the aim that whoever finds the little volume when he leaves it in a cafe will share their true self with their own entry and then pass the volume on to a stranger. The second person to share their inner selves in the notebook’s pages is Monica, 37, owner of a failing cafe and a former corporate lawyer who desperately wants to have a baby. From there the story unfolds, as the volume travels to Thailand and back to London, seemingly destined to fall only into the hands of people—an alcoholic drug addict, an Australian tourist, a social media influencer/new mother, etc.—who already live clustered together geographically. This is a glossy tale where difficulties and addictions appear and are overcome, where lies are told and then forgiven, where love is sought and found, and where truths, once spoken, can set you free. Secondary characters, including an interracial gay couple, appear with their own nuanced parts in the story. The message is strong, urging readers to get off their smartphones and social media and live in the real, authentic world—no chain stores or brands allowed here—making friends and forming a real-life community and support network. And is that really a bad thing?

An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7861-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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