A thoughtful, well-written work that breathes new life into past personalities and events.

ONCE THERE WAS FIRE

A NOVEL OF OLD HAWAII

In Shender’s debut historical novel, an 18th- and 19th-century Hawaiian ruler unites the island’s people through war, diplomacy, and intrigue in the years before, during, and after the arrival of European explorers.

Benjamin Namakeha, a contemporary of Kamehameha I (circa 1736-1819), tells of the events of the story after the fact, with the perspective of age and in the very different culture of mid-19th-century Hawaii. When Kamehameha was a youth, Namakeha says, he exceled at training in the arts of war; he gained strength and sharpened his wits, which served him well when navigating court intrigue, including multiple attempts to poison him. As Shender traces the Hawaiian hero’s life, he seamlessly integrates Hawaiian words, making the language easy for readers to pick up while also adding realism and flavor: “The older boy hurled the insult at Kamehameha like a short ihe spear.” In 1778, British captain James Cook lands in Hawaii; his arrival coincides with the foretold return of the god Lono. This coincidence, and the new arrivals’ advanced technology, convinces many Hawaiians that the foreigners (or “haoles”) are divine. Kamehameha is skeptical, however, and learns as much as he can about their weaponry, and he uses this knowledge in future battles. Shender’s delightful depictions of the first exchanges between strange cultures are spot-on, as when an interpreter for the British says, “he will pay generously in cloth and iron,” and a Hawaiian asks what iron is: “Ailon’e? What is ailon’e?” Although Cook is killed in a confrontation with islanders, Kamehameha and his people continue their trade with Europeans. In time, Kamehameha consolidates his power, dealing not only with military enemies, but also family problems. The story shows the engaging parallels between Kamehameha’s story and European mythology as well as religious tales. For example, when Kamehameha is born, his mother has a dream that frightens the island’s rulers, who then try to have him killed. Later, in a story that mirrors King Arthur’s, Kamehameha moves the Naha Stone—a deed that prophesies his destiny as ruler. Overall, this novel should gratify historians and general readers alike

A thoughtful, well-written work that breathes new life into past personalities and events.

Pub Date: Dec. 12, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-692-77133-4

Page Count: 562

Publisher: Pai'ea Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 30, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2017

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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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Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

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ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

Doerr presents us with two intricate stories, both of which take place during World War II; late in the novel, inevitably, they intersect.

In August 1944, Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a blind 16-year-old living in the walled port city of Saint-Malo in Brittany and hoping to escape the effects of Allied bombing. D-Day took place two months earlier, and Cherbourg, Caen and Rennes have already been liberated. She’s taken refuge in this city with her great-uncle Etienne, at first a fairly frightening figure to her. Marie-Laure’s father was a locksmith and craftsman who made scale models of cities that Marie-Laure studied so she could travel around on her own. He also crafted clever and intricate boxes, within which treasures could be hidden. Parallel to the story of Marie-Laure we meet Werner and Jutta Pfennig, a brother and sister, both orphans who have been raised in the Children’s House outside Essen, in Germany. Through flashbacks we learn that Werner had been a curious and bright child who developed an obsession with radio transmitters and receivers, both in their infancies during this period. Eventually, Werner goes to a select technical school and then, at 18, into the Wehrmacht, where his technical aptitudes are recognized and he’s put on a team trying to track down illegal radio transmissions. Etienne and Marie-Laure are responsible for some of these transmissions, but Werner is intrigued since what she’s broadcasting is innocent—she shares her passion for Jules Verne by reading aloud 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A further subplot involves Marie-Laure’s father’s having hidden a valuable diamond, one being tracked down by Reinhold von Rumpel, a relentless German sergeant-major.

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4658-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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