Dickens himself would be proud of Jarvis’ capture of so huge a slice of life. Humane and funny, though the Heditor might...

READ REVIEW

DEATH AND MR. PICKWICK

Beguiling, entertaining novel of Dickensian England, cramming most of the island and its most interesting characters into 800 teeming pages.

Did Charles Dickens come up with all those wonderful stories of his all by himself? Nay. Debut novelist Jarvis, a British journalist and adventurer, sets numerous Dickens-worthy tales into motion in one big book, some out of the mouths of beloved characters: “though even Moses Pickwick was not mad enough to tell the entire story of Prince Bladud to his horse, he did tell the story to one or two interested customers inside the Hare and Hounds.” Storytelling—the exceedingly arcane tale of the prince among other set pieces, along with a few shaggier yarns and the straightforward exposition of the narrator nicknamed Scripty—is central to Jarvis’ enterprise, but more so the teller of the tale, for among Dickens scholars there has long been controversy over authorship, a question that Jarvis complicates by placing Dickens’ first illustrator, Robert Seymour, at the center of the story—and suggesting that Seymour deserves more credit than he gets. The story is the thing, though, even if Jarvis invites us not to believe all the stories we hear: “That story doesn’t wash,” says Seymour, while Dickens himself “committed certain deceptions which, so far, no one had noticed.” Chalk it up to drink, perhaps, for the book is full of bibulousness as much as suspect tales (“his wooden legs wore out quickly when he drank gin and water,” “There is one answer: gin, Mr Seymour, gin!”), the two connecting in the very name of the author in dispute: “ ‘Boz’ is the biggest joke of all. Pickwick is written by a genius called Booze.” But there’s more to it than the sauce; in the end, this lavish story is a celebration of art and conviviality.

Dickens himself would be proud of Jarvis’ capture of so huge a slice of life. Humane and funny, though the Heditor might have taken a sterner hand here and there.

Pub Date: June 23, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-374-13966-7

Page Count: 816

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 11, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2015

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Inspired by disclosures of a real-life Florida reform school’s long-standing corruption and abusive practices, Whitehead’s...

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2019

  • Kirkus Prize
  • Kirkus Prize
    winner

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

THE NICKEL BOYS

The acclaimed author of The Underground Railroad (2016) follows up with a leaner, meaner saga of Deep South captivity set in the mid-20th century and fraught with horrors more chilling for being based on true-life atrocities.

Elwood Curtis is a law-abiding, teenage paragon of rectitude, an avid reader of encyclopedias and after-school worker diligently overcoming hardships that come from being abandoned by his parents and growing up black and poor in segregated Tallahassee, Florida. It’s the early 1960s, and Elwood can feel changes coming every time he listens to an LP of his hero Martin Luther King Jr. sermonizing about breaking down racial barriers. But while hitchhiking to his first day of classes at a nearby black college, Elwood accepts a ride in what turns out to be a stolen car and is sentenced to the Nickel Academy, a juvenile reformatory that looks somewhat like the campus he’d almost attended but turns out to be a monstrously racist institution whose students, white and black alike, are brutally beaten, sexually abused, and used by the school’s two-faced officials to steal food and supplies. At first, Elwood thinks he can work his way past the arbitrary punishments and sadistic treatment (“I am stuck here, but I’ll make the best of it…and I’ll make it brief”). He befriends another black inmate, a street-wise kid he knows only as Turner, who has a different take on withstanding Nickel: “The key to in here is the same as surviving out there—you got to see how people act, and then you got to figure out how to get around them like an obstacle course.” And if you defy them, Turner warns, you’ll get taken “out back” and are never seen or heard from again. Both Elwood’s idealism and Turner’s cynicism entwine into an alliance that compels drastic action—and a shared destiny. There's something a tad more melodramatic in this book's conception (and resolution) than one expects from Whitehead, giving it a drugstore-paperback glossiness that enhances its blunt-edged impact.

Inspired by disclosures of a real-life Florida reform school’s long-standing corruption and abusive practices, Whitehead’s novel displays its author’s facility with violent imagery and his skill at weaving narrative strands into an ingenious if disquieting whole.

Pub Date: July 16, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-385-53707-0

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Jan. 21, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2019

Did you like this book?

The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as...

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

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

Did you like this book?

more