Passionate, intelligently written, thoroughly entertaining historical fiction.

THE RICHEST HILL ON EARTH

Wheeler (The Deliverance, 2003etc.) brings to life robber barons, Irish immigrant miners and lost souls among the trash heaps and bawdy houses, headframes and smelters of 1890s Butte, Mont.

Two iron men grow rich as copper, silver and gold are pried from the ground to power the Industrial Revolution. Marcus Daly, a miner who blasted his way to ownership of Anaconda Copper, and William Andrews Clark, a dour and bloodless Scot, war over The Richest Hill on Earth, and the casualties litter Butte, a "battered, filthy, chaotic, ugly city." Miners do the hard work that makes the copper capitalists rich, miners who earn three-and-half dollars a day and die of silicosis, tuberculosis and typhus in the shadow of pristine mountains. Wheeler adds the rapacious Rockefellers and a real-life opportunist named F. Augustus Heinze, but the power within this beautifully researched novel lives through the fictional characters that rage among the pits, sheds, stamp mills and saloons. There is J. Fellowes Hall, a newspaperman imported by Clark to edit his mouthpiece, the Butte Mineral. Clark lusts for an appointment to the U.S. Senate no matter the cost in bribes and "boodlers." There is Slanting Agnes, a "fey woman" who catches flashes of the future. Royal Maxwell, a syphilitic undertaker, finds comfort on Mercury Street, "precinct of the bawds." "Red Alice" Brophy, a Dublin Gulch widow and dollar-a-day washerwoman, grows angry, begins to agitate for socialism and the ouster of corrupt union leader Big Johnny Boyle, earning beatings as a reward. Wheeler’s work isn't character study, nor is it a shoot-’em-up, hero-centric tale. It is a mirror to a time and place where copper, for wires, for brass, for war and peace was clawed from the earth by men as disposable as machinery, men left without care or comfort to hide away in the tunnels so they might once more be warm as they cough up their lives.

Passionate, intelligently written, thoroughly entertaining historical fiction.

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-7653-2816-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Forge

Review Posted Online: Oct. 3, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2011

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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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Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

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ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

Doerr presents us with two intricate stories, both of which take place during World War II; late in the novel, inevitably, they intersect.

In August 1944, Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a blind 16-year-old living in the walled port city of Saint-Malo in Brittany and hoping to escape the effects of Allied bombing. D-Day took place two months earlier, and Cherbourg, Caen and Rennes have already been liberated. She’s taken refuge in this city with her great-uncle Etienne, at first a fairly frightening figure to her. Marie-Laure’s father was a locksmith and craftsman who made scale models of cities that Marie-Laure studied so she could travel around on her own. He also crafted clever and intricate boxes, within which treasures could be hidden. Parallel to the story of Marie-Laure we meet Werner and Jutta Pfennig, a brother and sister, both orphans who have been raised in the Children’s House outside Essen, in Germany. Through flashbacks we learn that Werner had been a curious and bright child who developed an obsession with radio transmitters and receivers, both in their infancies during this period. Eventually, Werner goes to a select technical school and then, at 18, into the Wehrmacht, where his technical aptitudes are recognized and he’s put on a team trying to track down illegal radio transmissions. Etienne and Marie-Laure are responsible for some of these transmissions, but Werner is intrigued since what she’s broadcasting is innocent—she shares her passion for Jules Verne by reading aloud 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A further subplot involves Marie-Laure’s father’s having hidden a valuable diamond, one being tracked down by Reinhold von Rumpel, a relentless German sergeant-major.

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4658-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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