A somber and surprisingly dry Wild West tale.

THE KID

A portrait of the world-famous, short-lived outlaw and the milieu that created his myth.

For veteran novelist Hansen (She Loves Me Not: New and Selected Stories, 2012, etc.), Billy the Kid was one part angry gunslinger, one part victim of circumstance: the late-19th-century New Mexico territory was so ill-governed, he argues, that the Kid was no more lawless in many ways than the ostensible lawmen. Indeed, he wasn’t born violent: his preferred crime early on was horse thievery, his chief talent was wily escapes, and his first killing was arguably self-defense. But he soon fell in with a gang of fellow thieves and became entangled in the Lincoln County War, in which rival businesses’ scrabbling for authority devolved into gunplay. “It was a collective thing, but only Kid Bonney got accused of the murders,” the unnamed narrator explains after one gunfight ended, typical of his mythos. The Kid’s perceived criminality was a function of who was in charge; the territory’s governor, Lew Wallace, promised the Kid a pardon but was too distracted by the epic Christian novel he was writing, Ben-Hur, to protect him from Pat Garrett, another outlaw who wound up wearing a sheriff’s badge. Hansen has done his research, which is often to the novel’s detriment—the Lincoln County War involved a raft of characters, and he doesn’t always do much to color them. The Kid, too, is often a disappointingly vague figure, a handsome scrapper talented at escapes and charming with women but hard to get a bead on. The novel’s strength is its understanding of the fluidity of authority in “a West where judgments of legality go to the highest bidder or at the insistence of a gun.” By the end of the novel (and Billy’s brief life) it’s clear he hasn’t gotten an entirely fair shake. But the novel reveals more of the territory’s character than its occupants’.

A somber and surprisingly dry Wild West tale.

Pub Date: Oct. 4, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5011-2975-9

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Aug. 1, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2016

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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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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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Romance and melodrama mix uneasily with mass murder.

THE WINTER GUEST

An 18-year-old Polish girl falls in love, swoons over a first kiss, dreams of marriage—and, oh yes, we are in the middle of the Holocaust.

Jenoff (The Ambassador’s Daughter, 2013, etc.) weaves a tale of fevered teenage love in a time of horrors in the early 1940s, as the Nazis invade Poland and herd Jews into ghettos and concentration camps. A prologue set in 2013, narrated by a resident of the Westchester Senior Center, provides an intriguing setup. A woman and a policeman visit the resident and ask if she came from a small Polish village. Their purpose is unclear until they mention bones recently found there: “And we think you might know something about them.” The book proceeds in the third person, told from the points of view mostly of teenage Helena, who comes upon an injured young Jewish-American soldier, and sometimes of her twin, Ruth, who is not as adventurous as Helena but is very competitive with her. Their father is dead, their mother is dying in a hospital, and they are raising their three younger siblings amid danger and hardship. The romance between Helena and Sam, the soldier, is often conveyed in overheated language that doesn’t sit well with the era’s tragic events: “There had been an intensity to his embrace that said he was barely able to contain himself, that he also wanted more.” Jenoff, clearly on the side of tolerance, slips in a simplified historical framework for the uninformed. But she also feeds stereotypes, having Helena note that Sam has “a slight arch to his nose” and a dark complexion that “would make him suspect as a Jew immediately.” Clichés also pop up during the increasingly complex plot: “But even if they stood in place, the world around them would not.”

Romance and melodrama mix uneasily with mass murder.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-7783-1596-4

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Harlequin MIRA

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2014

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