A lyrical novel that touches on themes both huge and intimate and, like Layla, is so quietly bold that we might miss its...

TEATIME FOR THE FIREFLY

In the mid-1940s, an unconventional young Indian woman manages to defy the odds and her own inauspicious legacy to marry the man of her dreams, then must adjust to life in a remote tea garden amid the nationalistic, racial and religious discord of the times.

Raised by a secular, liberal-minded grandfather, Layla Roy seems destined for an academic life, but everything changes when she meets Manik Deb, the handsome, Oxford-educated young man who is betrothed through an arranged marriage to Layla’s conservative neighbor. When Manik suddenly gives up his distinguished civil service job to become a tea planter on one of the remote Assam plantations, it throws a wrench in his family’s plans for him and opens the door for a future with Layla. When they are finally able to wed, Manik takes Layla with him into the eccentric, isolated tea planter’s life, and the two must adjust to life together as well as to all of the idiosyncrasies of the British-dominated, colonial lifestyle of the planters. And if that’s not enough, tensions of Indian independence will soon jeopardize their happy union. Debut author Patel offers a stunning, panoramic view of a virtually unknown time and place—the colonial British tea plantations of Assam—while bringing them to life through a unique character’s perspective. Layla’s tragic early life is offset by her association with Dadamoshai, her unorthodox grandfather, which leads her to a huge set of opportunities not generally open to Indian women of her time. The odd courtship between Manik and Layla is sweet and touching, yet watching them spread their wings and plant roots together as a young married couple is fascinating, especially against the backdrop of the Indian fight for independence and the societal violence that was its byproduct. There is so much interesting history, worldbuilding and character development in this book that readers will forgive the occasional slow pacing and the subtle transition midbook as to the type of story being told.

A lyrical novel that touches on themes both huge and intimate and, like Layla, is so quietly bold that we might miss its strength if we fail to pay attention.

Pub Date: Sept. 24, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-7783-1547-6

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Harlequin MIRA

Review Posted Online: Sept. 26, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2013

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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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Romance and melodrama mix uneasily with mass murder.

THE WINTER GUEST

An 18-year-old Polish girl falls in love, swoons over a first kiss, dreams of marriage—and, oh yes, we are in the middle of the Holocaust.

Jenoff (The Ambassador’s Daughter, 2013, etc.) weaves a tale of fevered teenage love in a time of horrors in the early 1940s, as the Nazis invade Poland and herd Jews into ghettos and concentration camps. A prologue set in 2013, narrated by a resident of the Westchester Senior Center, provides an intriguing setup. A woman and a policeman visit the resident and ask if she came from a small Polish village. Their purpose is unclear until they mention bones recently found there: “And we think you might know something about them.” The book proceeds in the third person, told from the points of view mostly of teenage Helena, who comes upon an injured young Jewish-American soldier, and sometimes of her twin, Ruth, who is not as adventurous as Helena but is very competitive with her. Their father is dead, their mother is dying in a hospital, and they are raising their three younger siblings amid danger and hardship. The romance between Helena and Sam, the soldier, is often conveyed in overheated language that doesn’t sit well with the era’s tragic events: “There had been an intensity to his embrace that said he was barely able to contain himself, that he also wanted more.” Jenoff, clearly on the side of tolerance, slips in a simplified historical framework for the uninformed. But she also feeds stereotypes, having Helena note that Sam has “a slight arch to his nose” and a dark complexion that “would make him suspect as a Jew immediately.” Clichés also pop up during the increasingly complex plot: “But even if they stood in place, the world around them would not.”

Romance and melodrama mix uneasily with mass murder.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-7783-1596-4

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Harlequin MIRA

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2014

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