Rich in detail and rendered with a literary flair, this is magnificent fiction that Civil War buffs will want for their...

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THE DAMNED OF PETERSBURG

Peters (Valley of the Shadow, 2015, etc.) continues his visceral Civil War series with the Union Army’s 1864 assaults around Petersburg, Virginia.

Sourcing biographies, letters, and historical documents, Peters creates a superbly detailed retelling of the Civil War confrontations near Petersburg, bloody butchering that marked the beginning of the war’s end. The story begins with a massive explosion behind Confederate lines. There’s much ugly history uncovered. The North’s employment of African-American soldiers at the Battle of the Crater was controversial, even among some Northerners and Union troops, some of whom turned on the black soldiers. Peters doesn’t shy from relating instances of shocking barbarism, and from there, he chronicles bloodletting at places far from the common historical record, including Second Deep Bottom, Globe Tavern, and Reams Station. Prepare for a narrative of near unrelenting violence, which shifts only occasionally to reimagined headquarters conferences and some homefront anecdotes such as Gen. Francis Channing Barlow’s, nearly collapsed from internal parasites, attending his wife’s New Jersey funeral. Sickened by the slaughter, Harvard-educated Barlow thought "if he ever had a soul he seemed to have lost it" in war’s crucible of cruelty. Peters' fast-paced novel is entirely a story of men at war, from the quiet, calm, relentless Grant to Lee, aware that slavery had cursed the white South, to a young up-from-the-ranks 50th Pennsylvania lieutenant named Brown, worried because he "sensed a beast" growing inside himself. The narrative is chronological, beginning in the relentless summer heat and continuing through the fall campaign. With thoughtful yet candid judgments of generalship and empathetic appreciation for the common soldier’s sacrifice, Peters' descriptions of battle, with blood misting the air and men whose limbs or faces have been shot away, are cringeworthy yet a reminder of the half-million lives sacrificed to preserve the union.

Rich in detail and rendered with a literary flair, this is magnificent fiction that Civil War buffs will want for their libraries.

Pub Date: June 28, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-7653-7406-6

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Forge

Review Posted Online: March 31, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2016

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Though gripping, even moving at times, the novel doesn’t do justice to the solemn history from which it is drawn.

CILKA'S JOURNEY

In this follow-up to the widely read The Tattooist of Auschwitz (2018), a young concentration camp survivor is sentenced to 15 years’ hard labor in a Russian gulag.

The novel begins with the liberation of Auschwitz by Soviet troops in 1945. In the camp, 16-year-old Cecilia "Cilka" Klein—one of the Jewish prisoners introduced in Tattooist—was forced to become the mistress of two Nazi commandants. The Russians accuse her of collaborating—they also think she might be a spy—and send her to the Vorkuta Gulag in Siberia. There, another nightmarish scenario unfolds: Cilka, now 18, and the other women in her hut are routinely raped at night by criminal-class prisoners with special “privileges”; by day, the near-starving women haul coal from the local mines in frigid weather. The narrative is intercut with Cilka’s grim memories of Auschwitz as well as her happier recollections of life with her parents and sister before the war. At Vorkuta, her lot improves when she starts work as a nurse trainee at the camp hospital under the supervision of a sympathetic woman doctor who tries to protect her. Cilka also begins to feel the stirrings of romantic love for Alexandr, a fellow prisoner. Though believing she is cursed, Cilka shows great courage and fortitude throughout: Indeed, her ability to endure trauma—as well her heroism in ministering to the sick and wounded—almost defies credulity. The novel is ostensibly based on a true story, but a central element in the book—Cilka’s sexual relationship with the SS officers—has been challenged by the Auschwitz Memorial Research Center and by the real Cilka’s stepson, who says it is false. As in Tattooist, the writing itself is workmanlike at best and often overwrought.

Though gripping, even moving at times, the novel doesn’t do justice to the solemn history from which it is drawn.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-26570-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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If nothing else, you have to giggle over how this novel’s namesake, who held vicious white supremacist opinions, must be...

LOVECRAFT COUNTRY

Some very nice, very smart African-Americans are plunged into netherworlds of malevolent sorcery in the waning days of Jim Crow—as if Jim Crow alone wasn’t enough of a curse to begin with.

In the northern U.S. of the mid-1950s, as depicted in this merrily macabre pastiche by Ruff (The Mirage, 2012, etc.), Driving While Black is an even more perilous proposition than it is now. Ask Atticus Turner, an African-American Korean War veteran and science-fiction buff, who is compelled to face an all-too-customary gauntlet of racist highway patrolmen and hostile white roadside hamlets en route from his South Side Chicago home to a remote Massachusetts village in search of his curmudgeonly father, Montrose, who was lured away by a young white “sharp dresser” driving a silver Cadillac with tinted windows. At least Atticus isn’t alone; his uncle George, who puts out annual editions of The Safe Negro Travel Guide, is splitting driving duties in his Packard station wagon “with inlaid birch trim and side paneling.” Also along for the ride is Atticus’ childhood friend Letitia Dandridge, another sci-fi fan, whose family lived in the same neighborhood as the Turners. It turns out this road trip is merely the beginning of a series of bizarre chimerical adventures ensnaring both the Turner and Dandridge clans in ancient rituals, arcane magical texts, alternate universes, and transmogrifying potions, all of which bears some resemblance to the supernatural visions of H.P. Lovecraft and other gothic dream makers of the past. Ruff’s ripping yarns often pile on contrivances and overextend the narratives in the grand manner of pulp storytelling, but the reinvented mythos here seems to have aroused in him a newfound empathy and engagement with his characters.

If nothing else, you have to giggle over how this novel’s namesake, who held vicious white supremacist opinions, must be doing triple axels in his grave at the way his imagination has been so impudently shaken and stirred.

Pub Date: Feb. 16, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-06-229206-3

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2015

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