The lives of two Indian immigrants are scarred by forces still alive a century later.

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PASSAGE WEST

A debut novel recounts the struggles and triumphs of immigrants in California’s Imperial Valley a century ago.

Reddi’s novel opens in 1974 with the death of a cantankerous old man named Karak Singh Gill, attended by a longtime friend, the equally cantankerous Ram Singh. But most of the book is set between 1913 and 1924, after Karak and Ram, both natives of Punjab, have arrived in the Imperial Valley. Its rapid agricultural growth is powered by immigrants like the two friends, who first work for Karak’s well-established patron, Jivan Singh, and later become sharecroppers themselves—it’s illegal for immigrants to own land. Ram was sent to the United States by the uncle who raised him, assigned to earn money to send home. He left behind a bride whose pregnancy he doesn’t even hear about until he’s in America, and he longs to return, but the uncle keeps telling him to stay a while longer—stays that add up to years. Karak, a veteran of the British Army, has no desire to go back to India. A man of immense pride, he aims to establish himself in California. Reddi details the obstacles in his way, especially the pervasive bigotry not only against immigrants in general, but between members of each immigrant group: Indians, Mexicans, Japanese, and more. Another barrier that has a huge impact on Ram and Karak: laws that make it nearly impossible for immigrants to bring their wives into the country at the same time that miscegenation laws forbid them to marry women of another race here. The pressures on Ram, Karak, and other immigrants will lead to an explosive act of violence. The sweeping narrative is deeply researched and offers a fascinating look at a historic era from a fresh perspective. Dense with incident and a large cast of characters, the plot bogs down from time to time, and the book’s female characters remain mostly long-suffering and one-dimensional. But the complex relationship between Ram and Karak powers the book and reflects issues still with us.

The lives of two Indian immigrants are scarred by forces still alive a century later.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-089879-3

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Jan. 26, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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Archer will be a great series character for fans of crime fiction. Let’s hope the cigarettes don’t kill him.

ONE GOOD DEED

Thriller writer Baldacci (A Minute to Midnight, 2019, etc.) launches a new detective series starring World War II combat vet Aloysius Archer.

In 1949, Archer is paroled from Carderock Prison (he was innocent) and must report regularly to his parole officer, Ernestine Crabtree (she’s “damn fine-looking”). Parole terms forbid his visiting bars or loose women, which could become a problem. Trouble starts when businessman Hank Pittleman offers Archer $100 to recover a ’47 Cadillac that’s collateral for a debt owed by Lucas Tuttle, who readily agrees he owes the money. But Tuttle wants his daughter Jackie back—she’s Pittleman’s girlfriend, and she won’t return to Daddy. Archer finds the car, but it’s been torched. With no collateral to collect, he may have to return his hundred bucks. Meanwhile, Crabtree gets Archer the only job available, butchering hogs at the slaughterhouse. He’d killed plenty of men in combat, and now he needs peace. The Pittleman job doesn’t provide that peace, but at least it doesn’t involve bashing hogs’ brains in. People wind up dead and Archer becomes a suspect. So he noses around and shows that he might have the chops to be a good private investigator, a shamus. This is an era when gals have gams, guys say dang and keep extra Lucky Strikes in their hatbands, and a Lady Liberty half-dollar buys a good meal. The dialogue has a '40s noir feel: “And don’t trust nobody.…I don’t care how damn pretty they are.” There’s adult entertainment at the Cat’s Meow, cheap grub at the Checkered Past, and just enough clichés to prove that no one’s highfalutin. Readers will like Archer. He’s a talented man who enjoys detective stories, won’t keep ill-gotten gains, and respects women. All signs suggest a sequel where he hangs out a shamus shingle.

Archer will be a great series character for fans of crime fiction. Let’s hope the cigarettes don’t kill him.

Pub Date: July 9, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5387-5056-8

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: Nov. 14, 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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