A suspenseful, convincing account of the hardships that Jews and refugees faced in a terrible war.

The Dragontail Buttonhole

Curtis’ debut novel tells of a family’s flight through Europe, moments ahead of the Nazi war machine. 

This story is semiautobiographical—or at least one of the characters is. Curtis’ alter ego, the infant Pavel Kohut, is safely born to a successful family of clothiers and the “bourgeois life of servants, fashions, and Prague’s social whirl” but soon finds himself in peril. His father, Willy, an importer of British textiles and an unapologetic Anglophile, is arrested by the Gestapo on suspicion of espionage. It’s 1939, and the Nazis have marched into Czechoslovakia unopposed. Friends become collaborators, Willy’s shop is appropriated, and Willy is beaten in prison until he appears to himself “a humiliated, disgusting wreck.” Sophie, Pavel’s mother, must prostrate herself before one sinister bureaucracy after another to try to learn her husband’s whereabouts, even enduring blackmail and rape (“the emotional damage of giving herself to this swine would haunt her forever”). When she does eventually track Willy down in Pankrác Prison, shut in with a corpse, she and her husband face the joint task of evading the Nazis and ferrying their young son to safety somewhere in the unoccupied West. Their flight brings them new identities, treacherous comrades, and further degradation. Curtis could have made his book a by-the-numbers thriller, but it’s too unblinkingly realistic to work as a potboiler. This is a serious novel about the most serious things in life; as Willy and Sophie travel farther from their home, increasingly stripped of their possessions, their senses of self at sea, they must continually re-evaluate who they are and what matters in their lives. Curtis is exceptionally good at depicting the strain and fractures of a marriage under constant violation from the outside, and both Willy and Sophie evolve and change convincingly through the book. This is a book to be read in sobriety and one that will leave its readers more sober still.

A suspenseful, convincing account of the hardships that Jews and refugees faced in a terrible war.  

Pub Date: March 15, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-944540-14-2

Page Count: 316

Publisher: Sordelet Ink

Review Posted Online: Oct. 14, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2016

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The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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Four men who meet as college roommates move to New York and spend the next three decades gaining renown in their professions—as an architect, painter, actor and lawyer—and struggling with demons in their intertwined personal lives.

Yanagihara (The People in the Trees, 2013) takes the still-bold leap of writing about characters who don’t share her background; in addition to being male, JB is African-American, Malcolm has a black father and white mother, Willem is white, and “Jude’s race was undetermined”—deserted at birth, he was raised in a monastery and had an unspeakably traumatic childhood that’s revealed slowly over the course of the book. Two of them are gay, one straight and one bisexual. There isn’t a single significant female character, and for a long novel, there isn’t much plot. There aren’t even many markers of what’s happening in the outside world; Jude moves to a loft in SoHo as a young man, but we don’t see the neighborhood change from gritty artists’ enclave to glitzy tourist destination. What we get instead is an intensely interior look at the friends’ psyches and relationships, and it’s utterly enthralling. The four men think about work and creativity and success and failure; they cook for each other, compete with each other and jostle for each other’s affection. JB bases his entire artistic career on painting portraits of his friends, while Malcolm takes care of them by designing their apartments and houses. When Jude, as an adult, is adopted by his favorite Harvard law professor, his friends join him for Thanksgiving in Cambridge every year. And when Willem becomes a movie star, they all bask in his glow. Eventually, the tone darkens and the story narrows to focus on Jude as the pain of his past cuts deep into his carefully constructed life.  

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53925-8

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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Above-average formula fiction, making full display of the author’s strong suits: sense of place, compassion for characters...


Female rivalry is again the main preoccupation of Hannah’s latest Pacific Northwest sob saga (Firefly Lane, 2008, etc.).

At Water’s Edge, the family seat overlooking Hood Canal, Vivi Ann, youngest and prettiest of the Grey sisters and a champion horsewoman, has persuaded embittered patriarch Henry to turn the tumbledown ranch into a Western-style equestrian arena. Eldest sister Winona, a respected lawyer in the nearby village of Oyster Shores, hires taciturn ranch hand Dallas Raintree, a half-Native American. Middle sister Aurora, stay-at-home mother of twins, languishes in a dull marriage. Winona, overweight since adolescence, envies Vivi, whose looks get her everything she wants, especially men. Indeed, Winona’s childhood crush Luke recently proposed to Vivi. Despite Aurora’s urging (her principal role is as sisterly referee), Winona won’t tell Vivi she loves Luke. Yearning for Dallas, Vivi stands up Luke to fall into bed with the enigmatic, tattooed cowboy. Winona snitches to Luke: engagement off. Vivi marries Dallas over Henry’s objections. The love-match triumphs, and Dallas, though scarred by child abuse, is an exemplary father to son Noah. One Christmas Eve, the town floozy is raped and murdered. An eyewitness and forensic evidence incriminate Dallas. Winona refuses to represent him, consigning him to the inept services of a public defender. After a guilty verdict, he’s sentenced to life without parole. A decade later, Winona has reached an uneasy truce with Vivi, who’s still pining for Dallas. Noah is a sullen teen, Aurora a brittle but resigned divorcée. Noah learns about the Seattle Innocence Project. Could modern DNA testing methods exonerate Dallas? Will Aunt Winona redeem herself by reopening the case? The outcome, while predictable, is achieved with more suspense and less sentimental histrionics than usual for Hannah.

Above-average formula fiction, making full display of the author’s strong suits: sense of place, compassion for characters and understanding of family dynamics.

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-312-36410-6

Page Count: 400

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2008

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