First-rate historical fiction: marvelously atmospheric and emotionally engaging.

DARK AEMILIA

A NOVEL OF SHAKESPEARE'S DARK LADY

British author O’Reilly makes her U.S. debut with a gripping novel that gives feisty feminist voice to the unknown woman who inspired Shakespeare’s sonnets.

Their romance clearly has no future: She is the mistress of the elderly Lord Hunsdon; he is a playwright with little cash and a wife in Stratford. Yet for a few rapturous months in 1592, Aemilia Bassano and Will Shakespeare are swept away by a passion (vividly and earthily described by O’Reilly) neither of them will ever know again. When Aemilia becomes pregnant, she makes the pragmatic choice and convinces Hunsdon the baby is his; he arranges her marriage to a complaisant courtier. Will’s anguish turns to hatred when he walks in on the heavily pregnant Aemilia being raped by the dissolute Henry Wriothesley and takes Wriothesley’s word that it’s consensual. Of course he would believe another man, bitterly concludes Aemilia, who throughout the narrative engages readers’ sympathy with her outrage over the way women are kept down and denied a voice. Ten years later, when desperation to cure her plague-stricken son drives Aemilia to practice black magic, it’s utterly appropriate that she summons the demon Lilith, biblical Adam’s rebellious first wife. (The rather lurid supernatural elements are acceptable in the context of the Elizabethan worldview O’Reilly ably recaptures.) In return for her help, Lilith commands Aemilia to write The Tragedie of Ladie Macbeth, a savage affirmation of women’s power that—you guessed it—Aemilia offers to Shakespeare’s partner Richard Burbage, who promptly turns it over to Will to be remade as Macbeth. It’s an insult even worse than the vindictive portrait of her in his sonnets, but Aemilia and Will still love each other, painfully and without hope. O’Reilly brings her star-crossed lovers together and drives them apart through plot twists that are, for once, credible outgrowths of the characters’ personalities and beliefs, finally giving them a tender, heartbreaking parting.

First-rate historical fiction: marvelously atmospheric and emotionally engaging.

Pub Date: May 27, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-250-04813-4

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Picador

Review Posted Online: March 29, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 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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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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Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

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ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

Doerr presents us with two intricate stories, both of which take place during World War II; late in the novel, inevitably, they intersect.

In August 1944, Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a blind 16-year-old living in the walled port city of Saint-Malo in Brittany and hoping to escape the effects of Allied bombing. D-Day took place two months earlier, and Cherbourg, Caen and Rennes have already been liberated. She’s taken refuge in this city with her great-uncle Etienne, at first a fairly frightening figure to her. Marie-Laure’s father was a locksmith and craftsman who made scale models of cities that Marie-Laure studied so she could travel around on her own. He also crafted clever and intricate boxes, within which treasures could be hidden. Parallel to the story of Marie-Laure we meet Werner and Jutta Pfennig, a brother and sister, both orphans who have been raised in the Children’s House outside Essen, in Germany. Through flashbacks we learn that Werner had been a curious and bright child who developed an obsession with radio transmitters and receivers, both in their infancies during this period. Eventually, Werner goes to a select technical school and then, at 18, into the Wehrmacht, where his technical aptitudes are recognized and he’s put on a team trying to track down illegal radio transmissions. Etienne and Marie-Laure are responsible for some of these transmissions, but Werner is intrigued since what she’s broadcasting is innocent—she shares her passion for Jules Verne by reading aloud 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A further subplot involves Marie-Laure’s father’s having hidden a valuable diamond, one being tracked down by Reinhold von Rumpel, a relentless German sergeant-major.

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4658-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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