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THE GIRL WHO COUNTED NUMBERS

From the New Jewish Fiction series , Vol. 8

An engrossing mystery wrapped in a coming-of-age story and the heart-rending legacy of the Holocaust.

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A young Jewish woman searches for her lost uncle in Israel during the harrowing trial of Adolf Eichmann in Bernstein’s novel.

In 1961, Susan Reich, a first-generation Jewish teenager raised in an Irish Catholic neighborhood in New York City, is not the dutiful Zionist of her father Yehudah’s wishes. She wants to travel before going off to college, a plan her domineering father will only support if she goes to Israel to investigate the fate of his brother, Yakov, who disappeared after the Germans invaded Poland during World War II 20 years earlier. With little information to go on, Susan arrives in Jerusalem at a time of tumult and mourning as Adolf Eichmann, a Nazi war criminal and one of the principal architects of the Holocaust, is put on trial. As she listens to heartbreaking accounts of survivors in the course of the search for her uncle, she struggles with what it means to be a Jew. When she falls for Ezra, a Moroccan man in her Hebrew language class, she sees firsthand the impoverished conditions and prejudice his people face as non-European Jews. The experiences of Ruth, a waitress and Holocaust survivor whom Susan befriends on her quest, raise complex and contradictory ideas about love, rape, power, fear, and survival during the most horrific of times. The author brings the troubled young nation of Israel alive on the page, with trash-filled alleyways, smoke-filled cafes, and the pall of the Eichmann trial hanging over everything. The novel has a noirlike quality (“Around them, they heard the sounds of neighborhood cats yowling in the darkness. When she first heard them, Susan thought they were babies crying”), which, along with recurring themes of identity, history, culture, ethnicity, and sexuality, makes for an immersive detective novel. Bernstein’s story is no mere exercise in pulp—the narrative leans into the disturbing physical imagery and emotional fallout of the Holocaust while vividly capturing the tenor of Israel in 1961. This compelling, character-driven story will captivate even those with limited knowledge of Jewish history, the Nazis, or Eichmann and teach valuable lessons along the way.

An engrossing mystery wrapped in a coming-of-age story and the heart-rending legacy of the Holocaust.

Pub Date: Oct. 12, 2022

ISBN: 9789493276376

Page Count: 284

Publisher: Amsterdam Publishers

Review Posted Online: March 1, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2023

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THE WOMEN

A dramatic, vividly detailed reconstruction of a little-known aspect of the Vietnam War.

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A young woman’s experience as a nurse in Vietnam casts a deep shadow over her life.

When we learn that the farewell party in the opening scene is for Frances “Frankie” McGrath’s older brother—“a golden boy, a wild child who could make the hardest heart soften”—who is leaving to serve in Vietnam in 1966, we feel pretty certain that poor Finley McGrath is marked for death. Still, it’s a surprise when the fateful doorbell rings less than 20 pages later. His death inspires his sister to enlist as an Army nurse, and this turn of events is just the beginning of a roller coaster of a plot that’s impressive and engrossing if at times a bit formulaic. Hannah renders the experiences of the young women who served in Vietnam in all-encompassing detail. The first half of the book, set in gore-drenched hospital wards, mildewed dorm rooms, and boozy officers’ clubs, is an exciting read, tracking the transformation of virginal, uptight Frankie into a crack surgical nurse and woman of the world. Her tensely platonic romance with a married surgeon ends when his broken, unbreathing body is airlifted out by helicopter; she throws her pent-up passion into a wild affair with a soldier who happens to be her dead brother’s best friend. In the second part of the book, after the war, Frankie seems to experience every possible bad break. A drawback of the story is that none of the secondary characters in her life are fully three-dimensional: Her dismissive, chauvinistic father and tight-lipped, pill-popping mother, her fellow nurses, and her various love interests are more plot devices than people. You’ll wish you could have gone to Vegas and placed a bet on the ending—while it’s against all the odds, you’ll see it coming from a mile away.

A dramatic, vividly detailed reconstruction of a little-known aspect of the Vietnam War.

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2024

ISBN: 9781250178633

Page Count: 480

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2023

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THE FAMILIAR

Lush, gorgeous, precise language and propulsive plotting sweep readers into a story as intelligent as it is atmospheric.

In 16th-century Madrid, a crypto-Jew with a talent for casting spells tries to steer clear of the Inquisition.

Luzia Cotado, a scullion and an orphan, has secrets to keep: “It was a game she and her mother had played, saying one thing and thinking another, the bits and pieces of Hebrew handed down like chipped plates.” Also handed down are “refranes”—proverbs—in “not quite Spanish, just as Luzia was not quite Spanish.” When Luzia sings the refranes, they take on power. “Aboltar cazal, aboltar mazal” (“A change of scene, a change of fortune”) can mend a torn gown or turn burnt bread into a perfect loaf; “Quien no risica, no rosica” (“Whoever doesn’t laugh, doesn’t bloom”) can summon a riot of foliage in the depths of winter. The Inquisition hangs over the story like Chekhov’s famous gun on the wall. When Luzia’s employer catches her using magic, the ambitions of both mistress and servant catapult her into fame and danger. A new, even more ambitious patron instructs his supernatural servant, Guillén Santángel, to train Luzia for a magical contest. Santángel, not Luzia, is the familiar of the title; he has been tricked into trading his freedom and luck to his master’s family in exchange for something he no longer craves but can’t give up. The novel comes up against an issue common in fantasy fiction: Why don’t the characters just use their magic to solve all their problems? Bardugo has clearly given it some thought, but her solutions aren’t quite convincing, especially toward the end of the book. These small faults would be harder to forgive if she weren’t such a beautiful writer. Part fairy tale, part political thriller, part romance, the novel unfolds like a winter tree bursting into unnatural bloom in response to one of Luzia’s refranes, as she and Santángel learn about power, trust, betrayal, and love.

Lush, gorgeous, precise language and propulsive plotting sweep readers into a story as intelligent as it is atmospheric.

Pub Date: April 9, 2024

ISBN: 9781250884251

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Review Posted Online: Feb. 3, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2024

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