Veterans and military fans may be entertained, but the general audience will likely founder on the whimsy.

NAM-A-RAMA

Tall tales of the flying war in Vietnam mix successfully, for the most part, with adventures both amusing and hair-raising in Southeast Asia.

Oliver Stone confirmed that war is evil. Joseph Heller made the case that war is nuts. First-novelist and Marine aviation veteran Jennings suggests that war, even the war in Vietnam, could pretty much be fun. It was hell too, of course, and the battle scenes here are tough, fast, and frightening. But episodes of wackiness predominate in a story premised on secret orders from the nameless, though unmistakably Lyndonesque president. The orders send pilot Jack Armstrong and his fearless, wild-and-crazy buddy Gearhardt (first name seems not to have made it across the Pacific) into the Marine air wing with almost-captain rank and a mission to go to Hanoi and assassinate Ho Chi Minh—General Giap, too, if the opportunity arises. Success of the mission seems to depend on the powers of distraction associated with parachuting into Hanoi the luscious nude star of the film Barbonella (make your own connection), who is keen to have a go with the Hanoi anti-air battery. Gearhardt and Jack have a terrible time getting away from South Vietnam. Real war keeps intruding, and the pilots constantly have to fly real missions. When they finally do slip away, Gearhardt promptly loses the orders somewhere over the jungle, and their plane is shot down by irritable rice farmers well short of Hanoi. The naked movie star does drop, and the lads do make it to the North Vietnamese capital. But Ho turns out to be an awfully good drinking companion, and the orders to execute the communist leadership may actually have been orders to set up beer distribution agreements. Hmm. Bring on the bar girls.

Veterans and military fans may be entertained, but the general audience will likely founder on the whimsy.

Pub Date: March 1, 2005

ISBN: 0-765-31120-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Forge

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2004

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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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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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