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

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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ANIMAL FARM

A FAIRY STORY

A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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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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