Next book

BORDERS

An artful deconstruction of nationalism through the prism of personal loss and reconciliation. Read Jacobsen's novel...

In the immediate aftermath of World War II, a son named Robert is born to Maria, a Belgian teacher and nurse, in the Ardennes, a borderland region spanning Belgium, Luxembourg, France, and Germany.

That tale opens Jacobsen’s (Child Wonder, 2011, etc.) latest, but it’s one of multiple stories weaving through multiple lives in a narrative moving fitfully from wartime Luxembourg to Stalingrad’s slaughter and then on to the 1960s. No individual character drives this novel. Instead, there are a handful of principals whose lives intersect like forgotten trails in the Ardennes wilderness. Maria, nursing Allied wounded during the Battle of the Bulge, falls in love with a shellshocked American soldier, but he later disappears without realizing she’s pregnant. Robert, her son, grows to love and rely upon his godfather, Markus. Despite being of "ambivalent nationality," Markus had followed his fascist son into Germany’s Wehrmacht, where he was wounded and temporarily rendered sightless on the eastern front. Back home, obsessed by his son’s disappearance at Stalingrad, he chooses to live as a blind man. Another affecting character is Léon, drafted by the Nazis, fractured by the war. Held prisoner first by the Nazis and then by the Allies, he came home with a "permanently vacant smile." Historical characters appear too, like German generals Manstein and Paulus, those two sketched insightfully. The novel is replete with metaphor and parable, Jacobsen even using his setting symbolically: there's the River Our, a natural bridge across national boundaries and the impenetrable Ardennes, never fully revealing itself or the brutality it conceals. Jacobsen analyzes the nature of fiction and nonfiction; delineates the psychological parameters—borders—within which we live as individuals; and, while referencing tiny Luxembourg at Europe’s core, reveals the inevitable conflicts that arise when humankind imposes artificial distinctions.

An artful deconstruction of nationalism through the prism of personal loss and reconciliation. Read Jacobsen's novel carefully to savor its images and themes.

Pub Date: Oct. 18, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-55597-755-9

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Graywolf

Review Posted Online: Aug. 2, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2016

Categories:
Next book

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

Awards & Accolades

Likes

  • Readers Vote
  • 26


Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT


  • New York Times Bestseller


  • IndieBound Bestseller

Next book

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...

Awards & Accolades

Likes

  • Readers Vote
  • 26


Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT


  • New York Times Bestseller


  • IndieBound Bestseller

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

Close Quickview