The author clearly believes his subject has been shortchanged by history, but Meagher’s failure at almost everything that...

THE EXILE

Historical fiction by western veteran Wheeler (The Deliverance, 2003, etc.), based on the life of an Irish rebel who served as a Union general in the Civil War.

Exiled to Australia for inciting rebellion against British rule, Thomas Francis Meagher (1823–67) escapes to the teeming slums of 1852 New York. There, he quickly finds supporters, making his mark as a public speaker for the Irish cause. But while Meagher’s oratory brings him fame among his fellow exiles, it doesn’t bring him a living. Nor are his friends among the Tammany Democrats able to offer him any useful position, although he passes the bar and sets up law offices. His lack of income weighs more on him after he marries the daughter of a successful New York businessman. After nearly ten years of drifting, Meagher finds a purpose in the Civil War. He raises and commands an Irish brigade for the Union, thinking that seasoned veterans could then return to free Ireland from the British. But war changes him. He becomes a firm abolitionist, despite his countrymen’s fear that freed blacks will take the jobs now open only to the Irish. His troops see fierce action at Antietam and Fredericksburg, two of the bloodiest battles of the war, before Meagher is eased out of command, accused—perhaps unfairly—of drunkenness in the face of battle. Out of favor with the postwar government, he wangles an appointment as secretary to the governor of Montana. Arriving at his post, he finds himself effectively in charge, though the local powers, largely radical Republicans, oppose him at every turn. His death remains a mystery; Wheeler's suggestion that political enemies killed Meagher is certainly convincing.

The author clearly believes his subject has been shortchanged by history, but Meagher’s failure at almost everything that matters to him makes it difficult to see why the historical verdict should be overturned.

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 2003

ISBN: 0-312-87847-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Forge

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2003

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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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