THE MANDARINS

Whether read as a novel of ideas (as is intended) or as a roman a (which it also is), this fascinating long novel is by far the author's best work. It starts at Christmas, 1944, and traces through four years the development among a group of Paris left-wing intellectuals. The goal is to tell how these men and women, united during the war in the Resistance and by the common, necessary action involved, reacted and divided in peace. The story is told in alternating chapters,- half in the third person about Henri Perron, writer and editor of an underground newspaper, half in the first person by Anne Dubreuilk, a psychiatrist (de Beauvoir herself). Anne's husband, Robert, a Sartre-like figure, starts the S.R.L., a movement of the non-Communist left, and persuades Henri to back it with his paper. Then they split over breaking the story of Russian slave labor camps- and an unfounded suspicion that Robert has become a secret Communist. Later they are reunited in feeling that the intellectuals must maintain a position around which liberals who can't swallow either Capitalism or Communism can rally. Besides the political story there are several love stories, one an extraordinary and wonderful story of Anne and an American writer (whom the literary cognescenti will recognize). This is alternately idyllic, passionate, horrifying and tragic — and extraordinarily objective. The picture of America, too, is unusual in view of de Beauvoir's expected attitude. The book offers more than space permits in detail:- political discussion, graphic sex, sharp pen portraits of types and individuals in the literary scene, some travel writing, even a few-episodes of straight action. Despite all this, the novel is not a hedge podge; its parts are well integrated with the central theme. Readers may be divided in their acceptance, but the book is certain of significant critical reception. A certain awkwardness of translation is unfortunate, but despite this, the book — for the initiate- is well worth the price.

Pub Date: May 28, 1956

ISBN: 0393318834

Page Count: 612

Publisher: World

Review Posted Online: Oct. 10, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1956

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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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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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