A grand immersion in the past.


The lure of the wilderness proves irresistible for a young trapper in this glorious American frontier novel, Burke’s (Black Flies, 2008, etc.) third.

In 1826, civilization ends in St. Louis; beyond is the vast expanse of the prairie. William Wyeth sees in it an invitation. The 22-year-old is looking for adventure, and the fur trade is booming. Wyeth joins a brigade bound for the western mountains, where they will set traps for beaver and muskrat and return with their pelts. The season is interrupted when Wyeth is felled by friendly fire during a buffalo hunt. The incident shatters Wyeth’s illusion that he’s immortal, but his spirits are restored by his fellow trappers’ camaraderie. Recuperating at a U.S. Army encampment, Wyeth meets Alene Chevalier, a part native French-Canadian tanner. After the trapper has another near-death experience, they fall in love, but Wyeth is not ready for domesticity quite yet. The St. Louis dandy Henry Layton is forming a new brigade and offers Wyeth a stake in it. Layton is a complex figure, marvelously well-observed. A bit of a scoundrel, battling his own demons, he is undeniably charismatic. Both Layton and Wyeth will learn that “[t]here is little that ails a man…that is not improved by a season in the mountains.” The second expedition, this one on Crow lands (Layton has negotiated a treaty), is all ups and downs. The overbearing Layton risks a mutiny, but the trappers rally behind him when he fearlessly confronts a British brigade leader. Borders are vague and the expansionist Brits, not the natives, are the enemy. The trappers harvest a record number of pelts, but safe passage back is far from assured. Burke includes fine episodes of derring-do, two involving bears, and there is a thrilling climax, but character is his overriding interest, the way it’s shaped by tests of endurance in magnificent, alien landscapes.

A grand immersion in the past.

Pub Date: Feb. 24, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-307-90892-6

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: Aug. 24, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2014

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A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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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 17, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2018

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