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THE WIDOW OF THE SOUTH

An impressive addition to the library of historical fiction on the Civil War, worthy of a place alongside The Killer Angels,...

A thunderous, action-rich first novel of the Civil War, based on historical fact.

Music publisher Hicks treats a long-overlooked episode of the war in this account of the Battle of Franklin, Tenn., which took place in November 1864 near Nashville. As a field hospital is pitched in her field, Carrie McGavock, an iron-spined farm woman and upstanding citizen of the town, takes it upon herself to tend after the Confederate wounded; later, she and her husband will rebury 1,500 of the fallen on their property. Hicks centers much of the story on Carrie, who has seen her own children die of illness and who has endurance in her blood. “I was not a morbid woman,” Carrie allows, “but if death wanted to confront me, well, I would not turn my head. Say what you have to say to me, or leave me alone.” Other figures speak their turn. One is a young Union officer amazed at the brutal and sometimes weird tableaux that unfold before him; as the bullets fly, he pauses before a 12-year-old rebel boy suffocating under the weight of his piled-up dead comrades. “Suffocated. I had never considered the possibility,” young Lt. Stiles sighs. Another is an Arkansas soldier taken prisoner by the Yankees: “I became a prisoner and accepted all the duties of a prisoner just as easily as I’d picked up the damned colors and walked forward to the bulwarks.” Yet another is Nathan Forrest, who would strike fear in many a heart as a Confederate cavalryman, and later as the founder of the Ku Klux Klan. Hicks renders each of these figures with much attention to historical detail and a refreshing lack of genre cliché, closing with a subtle lament for the destruction of history before the bulldozer: “One longs to know that some things don’t change, that some of us will not be forgotten, that our perambulations upon the earth are not without point or destination.”

An impressive addition to the library of historical fiction on the Civil War, worthy of a place alongside The Killer Angels, Rifles for Watie and Shiloh.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2005

ISBN: 0-446-50012-7

Page Count: 404

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2005

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THE NIGHTINGALE

Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

Hannah’s new novel is an homage to the extraordinary courage and endurance of Frenchwomen during World War II.

In 1995, an elderly unnamed widow is moving into an Oregon nursing home on the urging of her controlling son, Julien, a surgeon. This trajectory is interrupted when she receives an invitation to return to France to attend a ceremony honoring passeurs: people who aided the escape of others during the war. Cut to spring, 1940: Viann has said goodbye to husband Antoine, who's off to hold the Maginot line against invading Germans. She returns to tending her small farm, Le Jardin, in the Loire Valley, teaching at the local school and coping with daughter Sophie’s adolescent rebellion. Soon, that world is upended: The Germans march into Paris and refugees flee south, overrunning Viann’s land. Her long-estranged younger sister, Isabelle, who has been kicked out of multiple convent schools, is sent to Le Jardin by Julien, their father in Paris, a drunken, decidedly unpaternal Great War veteran. As the depredations increase in the occupied zone—food rationing, systematic looting, and the billeting of a German officer, Capt. Beck, at Le Jardin—Isabelle’s outspokenness is a liability. She joins the Resistance, volunteering for dangerous duty: shepherding downed Allied airmen across the Pyrenees to Spain. Code-named the Nightingale, Isabelle will rescue many before she's captured. Meanwhile, Viann’s journey from passive to active resistance is less dramatic but no less wrenching. Hannah vividly demonstrates how the Nazis, through starvation, intimidation and barbarity both casual and calculated, demoralized the French, engineering a community collapse that enabled the deportations and deaths of more than 70,000 Jews. Hannah’s proven storytelling skills are ideally suited to depicting such cataclysmic events, but her tendency to sentimentalize undermines the gravitas of this tale.

Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

Pub Date: Feb. 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-312-57722-3

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 19, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2014

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THE TATTOOIST OF AUSCHWITZ

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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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 16, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2018

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