Lonely women in hushed bedrooms form the dominant image in a disjointed work that, aside from that brief elopement, is also...

LOVE CHILD

Old family scandals are revisited by a South African woman in this seventh novel from the expatriate South African writer (Bluebird, or The Invention of Happiness, 2007, etc.). 

She’s the pretty daughter of a diamond appraiser in Johannesburg. He works alongside her father. They’re still in their teens, but it’s love at first sight. She’s a Christian, he’s a Jew, a huge problem. They elope in a borrowed Chevy and head for her father’s hometown, stopping only to make love at a hotel. She hopes the aunts she remembers so fondly will shelter them. Wrong call. The three maiden ladies are horrified by the scandal (it’s 1925) and call her parents. Her father arrives and ends their romance. Isaac leaves defiantly, Bill remains behind, her aunts’ prisoner. Kohler has featured Bill (her childhood tomboy name) before, in her 1994 novel The House on R Street. Nine months later, Bill gives birth and her baby is snatched away, sold to adoptive parents. This is the only dramatic episode in a limp novel, so it’s unfortunate that it’s cut up into pieces, sandwiched between events 10 and 30 years later. The scandal has stayed buried until 1956, when Bill discloses it to her teenage sons. In the interim, there has been a second scandal. In 1935, Bill is hired as a companion to a wealthy woman, a lonely alcoholic whose businessman husband is often away. Mark, the sexually voracious husband, pursues Bill, who insists he first divorce Helen before marrying her. After the marriage, the three continue living together in an improbable ménage. Then Helen dies, and Bill becomes a heavy drinker too. Had she ever loved Mark? Readers will find it difficult to tell from the distanced narration. As for the eponymous love child, don’t hold your breath; she doesn’t appear till the very end.

Lonely women in hushed bedrooms form the dominant image in a disjointed work that, aside from that brief elopement, is also passionless.

Pub Date: June 28, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-14-311919-7

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Penguin

Review Posted Online: June 6, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2011

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A compulsively readable account of a little-known yet extraordinary historical figure—Lawhon’s best book to date.

CODE NAME HÉLÈNE

A historical novel explores the intersection of love and war in the life of Australian-born World War II heroine Nancy Grace Augusta Wake.

Lawhon’s (I Was Anastasia, 2018, etc.) carefully researched, lively historical novels tend to be founded on a strategic chronological gambit, whether it’s the suspenseful countdown to the landing of the Hindenberg or the tale of a Romanov princess told backward and forward at once. In her fourth novel, she splits the story of the amazing Nancy Wake, woman of many aliases, into two interwoven strands, both told in first-person present. One begins on Feb. 29th, 1944, when Wake, code-named Hélène by the British Special Operations Executive, parachutes into Vichy-controlled France to aid the troops of the Resistance, working with comrades “Hubert” and “Denden”—two of many vividly drawn supporting characters. “I wake just before dawn with a full bladder and the uncomfortable realization that I am surrounded on all sides by two hundred sex-starved Frenchmen,” she says. The second strand starts eight years earlier in Paris, where Wake is launching a career as a freelance journalist, covering early stories of the Nazi rise and learning to drink with the hardcore journos, her purse-pooch Picon in her lap. Though she claims the dog “will be the great love of [her] life,” she is about to meet the hunky Marseille-based industrialist Henri Fiocca, whose dashing courtship involves French 75 cocktails, unexpected appearances, and a drawn-out seduction. As always when going into battle, even the ones with guns and grenades, Nancy says “I wear my favorite armor…red lipstick.” Both strands offer plenty of fireworks and heroism as they converge to explain all. The author begs forgiveness in an informative afterword for all the drinking and swearing. Hey! No apologies necessary!

A compulsively readable account of a little-known yet extraordinary historical figure—Lawhon’s best book to date.

Pub Date: March 31, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-385-54468-9

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 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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