THE SERPENT NEVER SLEEPS

A NOVEL OF JAMESTOWN AND POCAHONTAS

Although she meets King James of England and is invited to come and write letters at court because of her fair penmanship, Serena Lynn takes a ship for the New World, following the fortunes of Anthony Foxcroft, hot-blooded son of the Countess who had employed her. She wears a serpent ring given her by King James; he told her it would protect her. The ship wrecks off Bermuda; although there is ample to eat, there is faction and dispute among the survivors. Foxcroft then sets out on a small vessel constructed from the wreckage, but only bits of it are ever seen again. Finally, in a larger ship, the colonists reach Jamestown, finding the settlers there decimated. Aware of the story of John Smith and Pocahontas, Serena decides to find the Indian maiden and beg assistance of her to help the starving colonists. She becomes part of a plot to kidnap Pocahontas, and is instrumental in the romance between her and John Rolfe. Serena marries; she and her husband protect Pocahontas in a sland-olf with the Indian; their cabin burns but all survive. Pocahontas notes that Serena is calm, while Pocahontas will soon be dead, and that the ring makes her calm. Serena throws the ring into the fireplace with vague regret. Later, news of Pochontas' death in England comes to the colony. This historical tale is at times confused—as with the factions in Bermuda—and at times disjointed. Pocahontas is right: Serena is too calm, and so dispassionate that we cannot really identify with her. Young readers might do better with Frances Mossiker or Jean Fritz as biographers.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1987

ISBN: 0395442427

Page Count: -

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 18, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1987

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We have heard that Jess Walter writes nonstop: Seven days a week, 365 days a year. Please, never stop.

THE COLD MILLIONS

Irresistible hobo brothers, an evil tycoon, a pregnant union organizer, a burlesque star, and a shady private eye light up a tale of the great Northwest in the early 20th century.

The fact that the same author has written books as wildly different and all as transporting as The Zero (2006), The Financial Lives of the Poets (2009), Beautiful Ruins (2012), and now this latest tour de force is testimony to Walter’s protean storytelling power and astounding ability to set a scene, any scene. Here it’s Spokane, his hometown, circa 1909. Orphaned Montana brothers Gig and Rye Dolan, 23 and 16, have wound up there along with so many others—“they floated in from mines and farms and log camps, filled every flop and boardinghouse, slept in parks and alleys…and, on the night just past, this abandoned ball field, its infield littered with itinerants, vagrants, floaters, Americans.” The violent adventure that befalls Rye and Gig the next morning becomes the centerpiece of a story that Rye ends up reciting onstage when he goes on the road with 19-year-old Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, a suffragette and union organizer and one of several real-life characters in the book. The free speech riots the Dolan brothers get involved in and end up incarcerated for are taken from history as well. At intervals, chapters are narrated by first-person characters both major and minor, several of whom die on the page midsentence, a literally breathtaking fictional flourish. Two favorite voices are Ursula the Great, the vaudeville performer Gig falls in love with, and Del Dalveaux, a detective in the employ of Ursula’s patron. Noted for her singing and her way with a live cougar, Ursula displays food-writing talent as well: “We were served a French red wine, a fine local beefsteak, scallops from Seattle, and gnocchi that might have been pinched from the ass of an Italian angel.” Dalveaux is a hard-boiled piece of work: “Spokane gave me the morbs. Right blood blister of a town. Six-month millionaires and skunk hobos, and none in between….The city was twice the size of the last time I’d hated being there.”

We have heard that Jess Walter writes nonstop: Seven days a week, 365 days a year. Please, never stop.

Pub Date: Oct. 6, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06286-808-4

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: June 26, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2020

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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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