BOWIE

Masterful, realistic retelling of the Jim Bowie legend by Texans Eickhoff and Lewis. In his present effort with Lewis, Eickhoff (who retold the Cuchulainn legend in last year’s The Raid) rebuilds the Bowie story in a brilliantly conceived series of interviews that captures the tone of frontier speech with what seems dead-on accuracy. Of Scottish ancestors who rode with Rob Roy, Big Jim Bowie (1790—1836) lent himself to dime-novel fabulization as an archetypal frontier hero only somewhat less fabulous than the Northwest’s Paul Bunyan. Bowie’s adventures include riding alligators in the swamps, hunting wild cattle with a knife, duels, Indian fights, lost treasure, and the designing of the Bowie knife (steel like a mirror, bronze the color of lightning). Before his death at the Alamo, he fulfilled one of his late wife’s last requests, that he free his slaves. Thus the opening interview is with 98-year-old Black Sam, who tells of his 20 years with Bowie. This is done in black English as rich as Nigger Jim’s and even more phonetically precise. The voice of Bowie’s mother, Elve Ap-Catesby Jones Bowie, is captured with equal resourcefulness as she says of her son’s death, —I—ll wager no wounds were found in his back.— Other interviewees are his brother, John Jones Bowie, the Shakespearean actor Edwin Forrest, Sam Houston, and Caiaphas K. Ham, who fought with Bowie during the Texas War for Independence and stuck by him during his darkest depression and slide into alcoholism following the deaths of his wife and children. Going by one report, Bowie, sick and unable to rise, was slain in his bed, though a second report adds that he slew two Mexicans with his pistols and more with his knife before being killed. Grand and compelling.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-312-86619-4

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Forge

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1998

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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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Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the...

FLY AWAY

Hannah’s sequel to Firefly Lane (2008) demonstrates that those who ignore family history are often condemned to repeat it.

When we last left Kate and Tully, the best friends portrayed in Firefly Lane, the friendship was on rocky ground. Now Kate has died of cancer, and Tully, whose once-stellar TV talk show career is in free fall, is wracked with guilt over her failure to be there for Kate until her very last days. Kate’s death has cemented the distrust between her husband, Johnny, and daughter Marah, who expresses her grief by cutting herself and dropping out of college to hang out with goth poet Paxton. Told mostly in flashbacks by Tully, Johnny, Marah and Tully’s long-estranged mother, Dorothy, aka Cloud, the story piles up disasters like the derailment of a high-speed train. Increasingly addicted to prescription sedatives and alcohol, Tully crashes her car and now hovers near death, attended by Kate’s spirit, as the other characters gather to see what their shortsightedness has wrought. We learn that Tully had tried to parent Marah after her father no longer could. Her hard-drinking decline was triggered by Johnny’s anger at her for keeping Marah and Paxton’s liaison secret. Johnny realizes that he only exacerbated Marah’s depression by uprooting the family from their Seattle home. Unexpectedly, Cloud, who rebuffed Tully’s every attempt to reconcile, also appears at her daughter’s bedside. Sixty-nine years old and finally sober, Cloud details for the first time the abusive childhood, complete with commitments to mental hospitals and electroshock treatments, that led to her life as a junkie lowlife and punching bag for trailer-trash men. Although powerful, Cloud’s largely peripheral story deflects focus away from the main conflict, as if Hannah was loath to tackle the intractable thicket in which she mired her main characters.

Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the pages turning even as readers begin to resent being drawn into this masochistic morass.

Pub Date: April 23, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-312-57721-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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