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THE COLOUR

Transformations, indeed, abound in this brittle world where everything is possible and yet everything is at risk. The result...

The Gold Rush is on, not out west but in 1860s New Zealand, and a young marriage is one of its casualties in this gripping pioneer story from the greatly gifted Tremain (Music and Silence, 2000, etc.).

Few emigrants have wanted to start over as ardently as Joseph Blackstone, who is fleeing two deaths in his native England. His father died in a horrible freak accident, his sweetheart in a different accident, for which Joseph feels (rightly) profound guilt. He has brought to the South Island his mother Lilian (no woman is more important) and his bride Harriet, a former governess. Harriet is the ideal pioneer, “a woman who longed for the unfamiliar” and for tests of her strength. Joseph has bought land and built a primitive house. The three scurry like ants under a vast sky, plains before them, fearsome mountains behind—until Joseph finds traces of gold beside their creek. The gold seduces him. It becomes his secret love. Clever Harriet figures this out, though, and, on top of his selfishness, this secrecy dooms her love for him. Soon, Joseph joins the Rush (far away from his property), marks out his claim, sinks his shafts. Anything for the colour! (A teenage hustler makes his nights less lonely.) Tremain does a fine job exploring the culture of the Rush: the noise, the stink, the thrill of the “homeward bounder.” Meanwhile, the elements have destroyed his house, and Lilian has died trying to save it. Harriet rejoins him, without tenderness, and sets up her own camp. True to form, Tremain doesn’t confine herself to the white settler’s viewpoint: other important characters include a Maori woman guided by the spirit world, and a Chinese market gardener who will play a crucial plot role and experience a transformation.

Transformations, indeed, abound in this brittle world where everything is possible and yet everything is at risk. The result is a page-turner that’s also a work of startling beauty.

Pub Date: May 21, 2003

ISBN: 0-374-12605-4

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2003

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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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