Begiebing’s narrative tends to get bogged down in historical detail, but it’s arresting enough to carry you through to the...

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REBECCA WENTWORTH’S DISTRACTION

In this latest American Gothic from Begiebing (The Adventures of Allegra Fullerton, 1999, etc.), a mysterious girl runs afoul of her relatives and becomes the obsession of a young artist in 18th-century New England.

For all of his refined artistic sensibilities, Daniel Sanborn is a man who knows how to get ahead. Trained as a painter in London, he realizes that England in the 1740s is a buyer’s market for portraiture, so he strikes out for the American colonies, just then full of rising merchants beginning to fancy themselves patrons of the arts. Not long after his arrival in Boston, Daniel wins his first commission, to paint a portrait of 12-year-old Rebecca Wentworth in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. The orphaned Rebecca was adopted by Squire Browne, her father’s cousin, who lost two sons of his own to the same plague that carried off her parents. Beautiful and phenomenally intelligent, Rebecca is an artist herself: untutored, but skilled enough to make Daniel envious of her talents. Her wild, brooding canvases, far beyond the mainstream of colonial taste, are taken as signs of madness, and Rebecca’s guardian tries to cure her of such fantasies. The squire first sends her to work on a remote farm where she will have no time to paint, and later attempts to marry her off. Thwarted in both plans, he decides to commit her to a lunatic asylum. Daniel learns of Squire Browne’s plans from the girl’s former governess, who wants to help her but is powerless to intervene. Awed by Rebecca’s talent, and horrified by her guardian’s insensitivity, Daniel tries to save her. But there are a number of obstacles in the way, not the least of them the American Revolution, which is just getting underway. And Daniel soon has to confront the painful realization that his feelings for Rebecca are not wholly disinterested.

Begiebing’s narrative tends to get bogged down in historical detail, but it’s arresting enough to carry you through to the end. A truly creepy tale.

Pub Date: Sept. 30, 2003

ISBN: 1-58465-284-5

Page Count: 224

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2003

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Though gripping, even moving at times, the novel doesn’t do justice to the solemn history from which it is drawn.

CILKA'S JOURNEY

In this follow-up to the widely read The Tattooist of Auschwitz (2018), a young concentration camp survivor is sentenced to 15 years’ hard labor in a Russian gulag.

The novel begins with the liberation of Auschwitz by Soviet troops in 1945. In the camp, 16-year-old Cecilia "Cilka" Klein—one of the Jewish prisoners introduced in Tattooist—was forced to become the mistress of two Nazi commandants. The Russians accuse her of collaborating—they also think she might be a spy—and send her to the Vorkuta Gulag in Siberia. There, another nightmarish scenario unfolds: Cilka, now 18, and the other women in her hut are routinely raped at night by criminal-class prisoners with special “privileges”; by day, the near-starving women haul coal from the local mines in frigid weather. The narrative is intercut with Cilka’s grim memories of Auschwitz as well as her happier recollections of life with her parents and sister before the war. At Vorkuta, her lot improves when she starts work as a nurse trainee at the camp hospital under the supervision of a sympathetic woman doctor who tries to protect her. Cilka also begins to feel the stirrings of romantic love for Alexandr, a fellow prisoner. Though believing she is cursed, Cilka shows great courage and fortitude throughout: Indeed, her ability to endure trauma—as well her heroism in ministering to the sick and wounded—almost defies credulity. The novel is ostensibly based on a true story, but a central element in the book—Cilka’s sexual relationship with the SS officers—has been challenged by the Auschwitz Memorial Research Center and by the real Cilka’s stepson, who says it is false. As in Tattooist, the writing itself is workmanlike at best and often overwrought.

Though gripping, even moving at times, the novel doesn’t do justice to the solemn history from which it is drawn.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-26570-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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If nothing else, you have to giggle over how this novel’s namesake, who held vicious white supremacist opinions, must be...

LOVECRAFT COUNTRY

Some very nice, very smart African-Americans are plunged into netherworlds of malevolent sorcery in the waning days of Jim Crow—as if Jim Crow alone wasn’t enough of a curse to begin with.

In the northern U.S. of the mid-1950s, as depicted in this merrily macabre pastiche by Ruff (The Mirage, 2012, etc.), Driving While Black is an even more perilous proposition than it is now. Ask Atticus Turner, an African-American Korean War veteran and science-fiction buff, who is compelled to face an all-too-customary gauntlet of racist highway patrolmen and hostile white roadside hamlets en route from his South Side Chicago home to a remote Massachusetts village in search of his curmudgeonly father, Montrose, who was lured away by a young white “sharp dresser” driving a silver Cadillac with tinted windows. At least Atticus isn’t alone; his uncle George, who puts out annual editions of The Safe Negro Travel Guide, is splitting driving duties in his Packard station wagon “with inlaid birch trim and side paneling.” Also along for the ride is Atticus’ childhood friend Letitia Dandridge, another sci-fi fan, whose family lived in the same neighborhood as the Turners. It turns out this road trip is merely the beginning of a series of bizarre chimerical adventures ensnaring both the Turner and Dandridge clans in ancient rituals, arcane magical texts, alternate universes, and transmogrifying potions, all of which bears some resemblance to the supernatural visions of H.P. Lovecraft and other gothic dream makers of the past. Ruff’s ripping yarns often pile on contrivances and overextend the narratives in the grand manner of pulp storytelling, but the reinvented mythos here seems to have aroused in him a newfound empathy and engagement with his characters.

If nothing else, you have to giggle over how this novel’s namesake, who held vicious white supremacist opinions, must be doing triple axels in his grave at the way his imagination has been so impudently shaken and stirred.

Pub Date: Feb. 16, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-06-229206-3

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2015

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