Gregory makes the broad sweep of history vibrant and intimate—and hinges it all on a bit of romance.

THE CONSTANT PRINCESS

Gregory (The Virgin’s Lover, 2004, etc.) is back in Tudor England to reimagine the reign of Katherine of Aragon, Henry VIII’s first wife.

Catalina, the Infanta of Spain, daughter of Ferdinand and warrior queen Isabella, was never meant for Henry. Instead, she was betrothed to Henry’s older brother Arthur. A few months after their marriage, a political arrangement uniting Spain and England against France, Arthur dies, and Katherine is married off to the much younger Henry. That’s the history of it—how Gregory fills in the gaps is pure romantic fiction. The best of the novel is the depiction of Katherine’s childhood in Spain. Her early years were spent on the battlefield, as her parents drove the Moors from Spain, and later in residence at the Alhambra. When at 15 she makes the journey to England, she is shocked by the comparative barbarity of the people (though she admits that the luxuries she’s used to—indoor plumbing, hospitals, good food—were introduced by the very people her parents have tried to exterminate). At first she dislikes Arthur, but the two fall in love and plan all sorts of progressive programs to improve England. On his deathbed, Arthur forces a promise from Katherine—tell the world the marriage was unconsummated, marry little brother Henry and carry on with Arthur’s dreams. At first the lecherous king makes a play for his daughter-in-law, but Katherine holds out for ten-year-old Henry. After years of living in poverty, she finally becomes Queen. Of course, our Catalina is not destined for a happy ending, but the early years of her marriage to the devoted Henry are joyous. Some may balk that in Gregory’s version, Katherine is responsible for defeating the Scots, others at the unlikely p.c. epiphanies she has at novel’s end—that the Moors are noble, and that war “will never cease until Christians and Muslims are prepared to live side by side in peace.”

Gregory makes the broad sweep of history vibrant and intimate—and hinges it all on a bit of romance.

Pub Date: Dec. 6, 2005

ISBN: 0-7432-7248-X

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Touchstone/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2005

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Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

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CIRCE

A retelling of ancient Greek lore gives exhilarating voice to a witch.

“Monsters are a boon for gods. Imagine all the prayers.” So says Circe, a sly, petulant, and finally commanding voice that narrates the entirety of Miller’s dazzling second novel. The writer returns to Homer, the wellspring that led her to an Orange Prize for The Song of Achilles (2012). This time, she dips into The Odyssey for the legend of Circe, a nymph who turns Odysseus’ crew of men into pigs. The novel, with its distinctive feminist tang, starts with the sentence: “When I was born, the name for what I was did not exist.” Readers will relish following the puzzle of this unpromising daughter of the sun god Helios and his wife, Perse, who had negligible use for their child. It takes banishment to the island Aeaea for Circe to sense her calling as a sorceress: “I will not be like a bird bred in a cage, I thought, too dull to fly even when the door stands open. I stepped into those woods and my life began.” This lonely, scorned figure learns herbs and potions, surrounds herself with lions, and, in a heart-stopping chapter, outwits the monster Scylla to propel Daedalus and his boat to safety. She makes lovers of Hermes and then two mortal men. She midwifes the birth of the Minotaur on Crete and performs her own C-section. And as she grows in power, she muses that “not even Odysseus could talk his way past [her] witchcraft. He had talked his way past the witch instead.” Circe’s fascination with mortals becomes the book’s marrow and delivers its thrilling ending. All the while, the supernatural sits intriguingly alongside “the tonic of ordinary things.” A few passages coil toward melodrama, and one inelegant line after a rape seems jarringly modern, but the spell holds fast. Expect Miller’s readership to mushroom like one of Circe’s spells.

Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

Pub Date: April 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-316-55634-7

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

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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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