Poet and children’s author Wachtel views her mother’s remarkable life, first recounted in The Story of Blima: A Holocaust Survivor (2005), through a creative new lens.

In 1941, Blima Weisstuch, the eldest daughter of a shoe merchant in Dombrowe, Poland, was abducted by the Gestapo before her mother’s eyes, shattering forever a domestic Eden of fresh-faced sisters, quarreling brothers, ritual dinners and the warmth of a mother’s embrace. Transported by cattle car with hundreds of other Jewish women to Grünberg labor camp, Blima is made to sew German uniforms and begins, slowly, to starve. Only a Catholic guard with a mothering instinct guarantees her survival by slipping her crusts of bread. Finally liberated and reunited with a brother, Blima marries a fellow Holocaust survivor, emigrates to Brooklyn and gives birth to Shirley, a coddled mother’s girl, who eventually grows up to write this richly imagined memoir. Wachtel (In the Mellow Light, 2009) structures her story in flashbacks narrated by Blima, Shirley and Betty—the name Blima takes in America. Each woman’s story propels the others’ over five decades. Betty and her husband, Chiel, run a Laundromat and produce a son. Shirley marries and becomes a writer. As family tables are set, the past bubbles up until an aging Blima faces death. Among Wachtel’s adroitly rendered scenes of Jewish domestic and communal life, of wartime Poland and 1950s New York, are several small masterpieces; a baby is accidentally dropped and dies, an apple is menacingly peeled in a labor camp, ice melts under a woman’s exhausted body in a Polish forest, a father weeps openly over his failure to provide, matzos are broken and challah is dipped. Wachtel entwines the singular and the ordinary with quiet lyricism. In the end, the eponymous shoes are upstaged; it is food that beckons, vanishes and sates. From the raisin breads of the Old World to the tenderly saved chicken bones of the new, food binds mothers to daughters and women to the world. Wachtel tells us she cannot fathom the Holocaust. That food is love and manna is life—this she proves. An evocative, moveable feast plumbing past and present with equal grace.


Pub Date: Oct. 17, 2011

ISBN: 978-1463674151

Page Count: 266

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Dec. 8, 2011

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

Reader Votes

  • Readers Vote
  • 15

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2018

  • New York Times Bestseller


A retelling of ancient Greek lore gives exhilarating voice to a witch.

“Monsters are a boon for gods. Imagine all the prayers.” So says Circe, a sly, petulant, and finally commanding voice that narrates the entirety of Miller’s dazzling second novel. The writer returns to Homer, the wellspring that led her to an Orange Prize for The Song of Achilles (2012). This time, she dips into The Odyssey for the legend of Circe, a nymph who turns Odysseus’ crew of men into pigs. The novel, with its distinctive feminist tang, starts with the sentence: “When I was born, the name for what I was did not exist.” Readers will relish following the puzzle of this unpromising daughter of the sun god Helios and his wife, Perse, who had negligible use for their child. It takes banishment to the island Aeaea for Circe to sense her calling as a sorceress: “I will not be like a bird bred in a cage, I thought, too dull to fly even when the door stands open. I stepped into those woods and my life began.” This lonely, scorned figure learns herbs and potions, surrounds herself with lions, and, in a heart-stopping chapter, outwits the monster Scylla to propel Daedalus and his boat to safety. She makes lovers of Hermes and then two mortal men. She midwifes the birth of the Minotaur on Crete and performs her own C-section. And as she grows in power, she muses that “not even Odysseus could talk his way past [her] witchcraft. He had talked his way past the witch instead.” Circe’s fascination with mortals becomes the book’s marrow and delivers its thrilling ending. All the while, the supernatural sits intriguingly alongside “the tonic of ordinary things.” A few passages coil toward melodrama, and one inelegant line after a rape seems jarringly modern, but the spell holds fast. Expect Miller’s readership to mushroom like one of Circe’s spells.

Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

Pub Date: April 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-316-55634-7

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

Did you like this book?


The Brat Pack meets The Bacchae in this precious, way-too-long, and utterly unsuspenseful town-and-gown murder tale. A bunch of ever-so-mandarin college kids in a small Vermont school are the eager epigones of an aloof classics professor, and in their exclusivity and snobbishness and eagerness to please their teacher, they are moved to try to enact Dionysian frenzies in the woods. During the only one that actually comes off, a local farmer happens upon them—and they kill him. But the death isn't ruled a murder—and might never have been if one of the gang—a cadging sybarite named Bunny Corcoran—hadn't shown signs of cracking under the secret's weight. And so he too is dispatched. The narrator, a blank-slate Californian named Richard Pepen chronicles the coverup. But if you're thinking remorse-drama, conscience masque, or even semi-trashy who'll-break-first? page-turner, forget it: This is a straight gee-whiz, first-to-have-ever-noticed college novel—"Hampden College, as a body, was always strangely prone to hysteria. Whether from isolation, malice, or simple boredom, people there were far more credulous and excitable than educated people are generally thought to be, and this hermetic, overheated atmosphere made it a thriving black petri dish of melodrama and distortion." First-novelist Tartt goes muzzy when she has to describe human confrontations (the murder, or sex, or even the ping-ponging of fear), and is much more comfortable in transcribing aimless dorm-room paranoia or the TV shows that the malefactors anesthetize themselves with as fate ticks down. By telegraphing the murders, Tartt wants us to be continually horrified at these kids—while inviting us to semi-enjoy their manneristic fetishes and refined tastes. This ersatz-Fitzgerald mix of moralizing and mirror-looking (Jay McInerney shook and poured the shaker first) is very 80's—and in Tartt's strenuous version already seems dated, formulaic. Les Nerds du Mal—and about as deep (if not nearly as involving) as a TV movie.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 1992

ISBN: 1400031702

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1992

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet