While Ampuero depicts Neruda warts and all, he still clearly admires his complex and demanding humanness.

THE NERUDA CASE

If the title sounds like something out of detective fiction, it is—for Ampuero asks us to consider the hypothetical possibility that Pablo Neruda, terminally ill, hires someone to track down a former lover.

This someone—Cayetano Brulé—is not even a professional detective but rather a Cuban who’s casually met the aging Neruda at a party in 1973. Neruda had previously hired several professional detectives to pursue the elusive quarry, and not only have they all failed, but they’ve tried to defraud him as well. Brulé takes up the task in homage to a poet he reveres, and he even starts reading Georges Simenon novels for inspiration. At first Neruda disguises Brulé’s mission by asking him to find Dr. Ángel Bracamonte, who through his knowledge of herbal medicine might supposedly be able to cure Neruda, now dying of cancer. But the real reason Brulé takes up—and fumbles through—his first case is to locate Bracamonte’s wife Beatriz, a dazzling beauty from the 1940s. Neruda not only knew the Bracamontes 30 years earlier, he was also Beatriz’s lover and might be the father of their daughter, Tina. Neruda has Brulé chase down cryptic clues that lead him to Cuba, Bolivia and East Germany. Four of the five chapters in the novel are named after Neruda’s wives or lovers, from the exotic Josie Bliss to the dancer Matilde Urrutia, and within these chapters Ampuero fantasizes a first-person “reminiscence” that Neruda might plausibly have had. The action of Brulé’s discoveries is played out against the growing political tension that leads to the overthrow of Allende and the beginnings of the political oppression of Augusto Pinochet, a coup that Neruda survived by only 17 days.

While Ampuero depicts Neruda warts and all, he still clearly admires his complex and demanding humanness.

Pub Date: June 14, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-59448-743-9

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: June 4, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2012

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2018

  • New York Times Bestseller

CIRCE

A retelling of ancient Greek lore gives exhilarating voice to a witch.

“Monsters are a boon for gods. Imagine all the prayers.” So says Circe, a sly, petulant, and finally commanding voice that narrates the entirety of Miller’s dazzling second novel. The writer returns to Homer, the wellspring that led her to an Orange Prize for The Song of Achilles (2012). This time, she dips into The Odyssey for the legend of Circe, a nymph who turns Odysseus’ crew of men into pigs. The novel, with its distinctive feminist tang, starts with the sentence: “When I was born, the name for what I was did not exist.” Readers will relish following the puzzle of this unpromising daughter of the sun god Helios and his wife, Perse, who had negligible use for their child. It takes banishment to the island Aeaea for Circe to sense her calling as a sorceress: “I will not be like a bird bred in a cage, I thought, too dull to fly even when the door stands open. I stepped into those woods and my life began.” This lonely, scorned figure learns herbs and potions, surrounds herself with lions, and, in a heart-stopping chapter, outwits the monster Scylla to propel Daedalus and his boat to safety. She makes lovers of Hermes and then two mortal men. She midwifes the birth of the Minotaur on Crete and performs her own C-section. And as she grows in power, she muses that “not even Odysseus could talk his way past [her] witchcraft. He had talked his way past the witch instead.” Circe’s fascination with mortals becomes the book’s marrow and delivers its thrilling ending. All the while, the supernatural sits intriguingly alongside “the tonic of ordinary things.” A few passages coil toward melodrama, and one inelegant line after a rape seems jarringly modern, but the spell holds fast. Expect Miller’s readership to mushroom like one of Circe’s spells.

Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

Pub Date: April 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-316-55634-7

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

Did you like this book?

The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as...

Reader Votes

  • Readers Vote
  • 21

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

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

Did you like this book?

more