This great doorstop of a romantic tragedy illustrates Gregory’s winning formula: A young woman triumphs despite a hostile...

FALLEN SKIES

Gregory (The Other Queen, 2008, etc.) leaves Tudor gowns behind for the Jazz Age in this addictive tale, originally published in the United Kingdom in 1993, of two wounded soldiers and the pervasive cost of war.

The novel begins with Stephen Winters recalling the Flanders fields of World War I, of the deep mud and bits of bodies underfoot, of the unrelenting terror of gunfire. Since his father’s stroke (at the news of favorite son Christopher’s death), Stephen has taken over the law practice, and he finds solace only with Coventry, his mute chauffer and wartime aid. Then he sees Lily Valance singing at the theater and is thunderstruck by the luminous joy of her face and voice—she reminds him of girls before the war, before everything was ruined. He courts her with his wealth, but his advances are rejected; Lily is 17 and in love with the theater’s musical director, Charlie Smith (though devoted to Lily, he refuses to marry her—a war wound has left him impotent). When Lily’s mother dies, Stephen, convinced Lily will cure him of his shell shock, coerces her into wedlock at her most vulnerable. Their honeymoon is a disaster (Stephen is sadistic and controlling), and the marriage continues in this vein when Stephen brings her to live with his mother Muriel, disapproving of the merchant-class theater girl, and his father Rory, upstairs and half-dead. But Lily is bright and resilient, and soon she is singing again professionally (after a fat lip from Stephen). She has Rory up and beginning to speak, and even Muriel begrudgingly admits Lily has an undeniable grace. Their house becomes fashionable with both society mavens and young bohemians—the only one not happy is Stephen, who has become more violent and unpredictable. When they have a little boy, the emotional torment really starts. The only bright spot in Lily’s life is Charlie Smith, who vows to save Lily and her son, if only he’s able before Stephen destroys them all.

This great doorstop of a romantic tragedy illustrates Gregory’s winning formula: A young woman triumphs despite a hostile male society.

Pub Date: Dec. 2, 2008

ISBN: 978-1-4165-9314-0

Page Count: 528

Publisher: Touchstone/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2008

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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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An almost-but-not-quite-great slavery novel.

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THE WATER DANCER

The celebrated author of Between the World and Me (2015) and We Were Eight Years in Power (2017) merges magic, adventure, and antebellum intrigue in his first novel.

In pre–Civil War Virginia, people who are white, whatever their degree of refinement, are considered “the Quality” while those who are black, whatever their degree of dignity, are regarded as “the Tasked.” Whether such euphemisms for slavery actually existed in the 19th century, they are evocatively deployed in this account of the Underground Railroad and one of its conductors: Hiram Walker, one of the Tasked who’s barely out of his teens when he’s recruited to help guide escapees from bondage in the South to freedom in the North. “Conduction” has more than one meaning for Hiram. It's also the name for a mysterious force that transports certain gifted individuals from one place to another by way of a blue light that lifts and carries them along or across bodies of water. Hiram knows he has this gift after it saves him from drowning in a carriage mishap that kills his master’s oafish son (who’s Hiram’s biological brother). Whatever the source of this power, it galvanizes Hiram to leave behind not only his chains, but also the two Tasked people he loves most: Thena, a truculent older woman who practically raised him as a surrogate mother, and Sophia, a vivacious young friend from childhood whose attempt to accompany Hiram on his escape is thwarted practically at the start when they’re caught and jailed by slave catchers. Hiram directly confronts the most pernicious abuses of slavery before he is once again conducted away from danger and into sanctuary with the Underground, whose members convey him to the freer, if funkier environs of Philadelphia, where he continues to test his power and prepare to return to Virginia to emancipate the women he left behind—and to confront the mysteries of his past. Coates’ imaginative spin on the Underground Railroad’s history is as audacious as Colson Whitehead’s, if less intensely realized. Coates’ narrative flourishes and magic-powered protagonist are reminiscent of his work on Marvel’s Black Panther superhero comic book, but even his most melodramatic effects are deepened by historical facts and contemporary urgency.

An almost-but-not-quite-great slavery novel.

Pub Date: Sept. 24, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-59059-7

Page Count: 432

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2019

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