As always from Desai: an intelligent and freshly tooled retelling of an old story.



True love contends with treachery in high places in this last of a trilogy (Isolde, 2002, etc.) about the fraught lives of Tristan, noble knight, and Isolde, Queen of Ireland.

Miles, who gives old legends a feminist spin, now makes Isolde a champion of female freedom and leadership: a champion who must not only defeat an invasion by painted men, the notorious Picts, but also by malignant Christian priests who want to destroy the religion of the mother goddess, who preaches kindness, love and the right of women to choose their men. Married to King Mark of Cornwall, a vassal of the great Queen Igraine, Isolde now wants to end the marriage and marry Tristan. But Tristan has sworn allegiance as Mark’s knight, and feels obliged to return to the Cornish court. Hearing rumors of a possible Pict invasion, Isolde hurries home to Dublin, only to learn that the Picts have landed and are marching on her capital. While she contends with the Picts and an unsettling attraction to their leader, the handsome Darath, who wants her as his queen, Tristan also has battles to fight. He defeats a deranged knight in the woods, escapes the demands of a sinister lady, and then decides it’s better to be with Isolde, who loves him, than serving unappreciative Mark. But the two lovers face more misunderstanding, dangers, and betrayals as ambitious knights scheme for Mark’s throne. Priests not only want Mark to renounce Isolde but limit her power, and a jealous Mark turns against Tristan. Back in Cornwall to look for the missing Tristan, Isolde collapses when Mark first shows her what she assumes is Tristan’s body, then imprisons her with a group of lepers. But the two lovers aren’t alone, as Merlin and the powerful Lady of the Sea make sure that these followers of the old ways escape destruction.

As always from Desai: an intelligent and freshly tooled retelling of an old story.

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 2004

ISBN: 0-609-60962-9

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2004

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Romance and melodrama mix uneasily with mass murder.


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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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 17, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2018

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