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WHEN THE DOVES DISAPPEARED

Fascinating material that’s marred by the lack of an angle or perspective.

The lives of three Estonians reflect their country’s ordeal during and after World War II in the latest novel by this Finnish-Estonian author (Purge, 2010).

For the small Baltic nation, it was a triple whammy. First the Russians occupied it in 1940. The following year, the Germans invaded, and the Russians were forced out. In 1944, it was the Germans’ turn to flee; this time, the Russian occupation would last for decades. Oksanen begins her story in ’41. Roland and his cousin Edgar have returned from training in Finland to drive the Red Army out of their country. While Roland fights fearlessly, Edgar is terrified of combat, though he does have other skills. A glib talker and willing informer, he ingratiates himself with the Germans, initially seen as liberators, and forges papers, giving himself a German name. Unable or unwilling to have sex with his wife, Juudit, he lives apart from her. Roland’s situation is worse. He learns his fiancee, Rosalie, has killed herself and is buried in an unmarked grave. Suspecting foul play, he vows to track down her killer. Juudit meanwhile has fallen in love with an SS officer and moved into his house. So far so good, with three characters clearly delineated: The honorable Roland, Estonia’s conscience; Edgar, a world-class creep; and the conflicted Juudit, who sleeps with a German while helping Roland smuggle refugees. Narrative momentum evaporates with a series of fast forwards to the much less volatile and engaging 1963-65 period, when Edgar has yet another identity as a tireless communist propagandist, a reluctant Juudit is back with him, and Roland has vanished. Camp horrors under the Nazis are dealt with perfunctorily, and the mystery of Rosalie’s death is not revealed until the very end; so much for the revenge motif.

Fascinating material that’s marred by the lack of an angle or perspective.

Pub Date: Feb. 12, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-35017-4

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 28, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2014

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THE NIGHTINGALE

Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

Hannah’s new novel is an homage to the extraordinary courage and endurance of Frenchwomen during World War II.

In 1995, an elderly unnamed widow is moving into an Oregon nursing home on the urging of her controlling son, Julien, a surgeon. This trajectory is interrupted when she receives an invitation to return to France to attend a ceremony honoring passeurs: people who aided the escape of others during the war. Cut to spring, 1940: Viann has said goodbye to husband Antoine, who's off to hold the Maginot line against invading Germans. She returns to tending her small farm, Le Jardin, in the Loire Valley, teaching at the local school and coping with daughter Sophie’s adolescent rebellion. Soon, that world is upended: The Germans march into Paris and refugees flee south, overrunning Viann’s land. Her long-estranged younger sister, Isabelle, who has been kicked out of multiple convent schools, is sent to Le Jardin by Julien, their father in Paris, a drunken, decidedly unpaternal Great War veteran. As the depredations increase in the occupied zone—food rationing, systematic looting, and the billeting of a German officer, Capt. Beck, at Le Jardin—Isabelle’s outspokenness is a liability. She joins the Resistance, volunteering for dangerous duty: shepherding downed Allied airmen across the Pyrenees to Spain. Code-named the Nightingale, Isabelle will rescue many before she's captured. Meanwhile, Viann’s journey from passive to active resistance is less dramatic but no less wrenching. Hannah vividly demonstrates how the Nazis, through starvation, intimidation and barbarity both casual and calculated, demoralized the French, engineering a community collapse that enabled the deportations and deaths of more than 70,000 Jews. Hannah’s proven storytelling skills are ideally suited to depicting such cataclysmic events, but her tendency to sentimentalize undermines the gravitas of this tale.

Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

Pub Date: Feb. 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-312-57722-3

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 19, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2014

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THE TATTOOIST OF AUSCHWITZ

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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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 16, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2018

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