A complex, resonant love story, set in a detailed landscape of Nazi-occupied Europe.




Neff tells the story of a couple caught up in the rise of the Third Reich in this debut historical novel.

Dieter Meister, an orphaned pianist, was made homeless when the Nuremberg laws shuttered the Jewish-run music school where he resided, so he’s forced to make his way in the streets of Berlin. While working as a pub musician, playing songs for off-duty Nazi officers, Dieter encounters Sofie von Seigler, a music school graduate and the daughter of a Wehrmacht general. They are united by a shared secret: each is the child of a Jewish mother. Dieter’s has been dead for many years, but Sofie’s remains alive, working for Poland’s intelligence service. The couple shares a love of music, particularly American music, and they hope that art might insulate their lives from the political madness roiling around them. It can’t: after the discovery of the Oster Conspiracy, in which some members of the Nazi military sought to overthrow Hitler, the two young musicians flee the country, due to Sofie’s involvement. Their journey, from the streets of Prague to the surreal village of the Theresienstadt concentration camp, will bind them together but ultimately separate them. Although the times require Dieter and Sofie to live extraordinary lives—dodging agents and pursuers, playing the roles of smugglers and spies—they still remarkably attempt to maintain their lives as artists. Despite the constant threat of war and genocide, they consistently face calamity with their love of music and each other. Neff is an impressive storyteller, both as a shaper of prose and as an architect of plot. For example, a memoir, penned by Dieter at Theresienstadt and later smuggled to Sofie’s mother in London, is central to the book’s structure. It provides a story within a story with its own chilling narrative voice: “They say that there are only two ways for a Jew to leave Theresienstadt—on a train to the East, or in a plain pine box.” The author also shows a mastery of detail and context—indeed, the book is a history lesson as much as a novel—and his controlled maneuvering of his characters through the events of the period make this book stand out from the still-crowded field of World War II epics.

A complex, resonant love story, set in a detailed landscape of Nazi-occupied Europe.

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-938462-25-2

Page Count: -

Publisher: Old Stone Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 23, 2016

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Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

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Inseparable identical twin sisters ditch home together, and then one decides to vanish.

The talented Bennett fuels her fiction with secrets—first in her lauded debut, The Mothers (2016), and now in the assured and magnetic story of the Vignes sisters, light-skinned women parked on opposite sides of the color line. Desiree, the “fidgety twin,” and Stella, “a smart, careful girl,” make their break from stultifying rural Mallard, Louisiana, becoming 16-year-old runaways in 1954 New Orleans. The novel opens 14 years later as Desiree, fleeing a violent marriage in D.C., returns home with a different relative: her 8-year-old daughter, Jude. The gossips are agog: “In Mallard, nobody married dark....Marrying a dark man and dragging his blueblack child all over town was one step too far.” Desiree's decision seals Jude’s misery in this “colorstruck” place and propels a new generation of flight: Jude escapes on a track scholarship to UCLA. Tending bar as a side job in Beverly Hills, she catches a glimpse of her mother’s doppelgänger. Stella, ensconced in white society, is shedding her fur coat. Jude, so black that strangers routinely stare, is unrecognizable to her aunt. All this is expertly paced, unfurling before the book is half finished; a reader can guess what is coming. Bennett is deeply engaged in the unknowability of other people and the scourge of colorism. The scene in which Stella adopts her white persona is a tour de force of doubling and confusion. It calls up Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, the book's 50-year-old antecedent. Bennett's novel plays with its characters' nagging feelings of being incomplete—for the twins without each other; for Jude’s boyfriend, Reese, who is trans and seeks surgery; for their friend Barry, who performs in drag as Bianca. Bennett keeps all these plot threads thrumming and her social commentary crisp. In the second half, Jude spars with her cousin Kennedy, Stella's daughter, a spoiled actress.

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-53629-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.


High-stakes weepmeister Sparks (A Walk to Remember, 1999, etc.) opts for a happy ending his fourth time out. His writing has improved—though it's still the equivalent of paint-by-numbers—and he makes use this time of at least a vestige of credible psychology.

That vestige involves the deep dark secret—it has something to do with his father's death when son Taylor was nine—that haunts kind, good 36-year-old local contractor Taylor McAden and makes him withdraw from relationships whenever they start getting serious enough to maybe get permanent. He's done this twice before, and now he does it again with pretty and sweet single mother Denise Holton, age 29, who's moved from Atlanta to Taylor's town of Edenton, North Carolina, in order to devote her time more fully to training her four-year-old son Kyle to overcome the peculiar impediment he has that keeps him from achieving normal language acquisition. Okay? When Denise has a car accident in a bad storm, she's rescued by volunteer fireman Taylor—who also rescues little Kyle after he wanders away from his injured mom in the storm. Love blooms in the weeks that follow—until Taylor suddenly begins putting on the brakes. What is it that holds him back, when there just isn't any question but that he loves Denise and vice versa-not to mention that he's "great" with Kyle, just like a father? It will require a couple of near-death experiences (as fireman Taylor bravely risks his life to save others); emotional steadiness from the intelligent, good, true Denise; and the terrible death of a dear and devoted friend before Taylor will come to the point at last of confiding to Denise the terrible memory of how his father died—and the guilt that's been its legacy to Taylor. The psychological dam broken, love will at last be able to flow.

More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

Pub Date: Sept. 19, 2000

ISBN: 0-446-52550-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2000

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