An epic and illuminating tale of moviemaking in the Third Reich.

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THE AMERICAN GIRL

A historical novel documents the rise of an American filmmaker in Nazi Germany.

Fresh out of the University of Southern California film school, Sally Faulkner wants to direct but finds herself working as a lowly script girl on David O. Selznick’s production of Gone with the Wind. A chance encounter allows the German-speaking Sally to act as an interpreter for Leni Riefenstahl during the controversial Nazi filmmaker’s appearance in Hollywood, which leads to a job offer in Berlin. Sally becomes enamored with the might and romanticism of the Third Reich, even if there are aspects of it, like the hatred of Jews, that she does not quite understand. Working alongside the likes of Riefenstahl and Veit Harlan—and catching the eye of the “respected Filmminister,” Joseph Goebbels—Sally has the opportunity to become something that she never could in Hollywood: a female film director. The German invasion of Poland disturbs Sally, but it offers her an opportunity: She is sent to direct a documentary about the lives of Jews in the Lodz-Litzmannstadt ghetto. There she meets Shimon Goldblum, an Ostjuden, or “Westernized Jew,” chosen to serve as her translator. In Lodz, Sally falls in love—and begins to question the actions of Hitler’s government: “What Shimon said about the German invasion—had he told her the truth? Was it possible the war was based on a ruse, a deception?” Unfortunately, the horrors are only just beginning. Sally soon realizes that her friends are committing one of history’s greatest crimes right in front of her and that she is complicit in it. As the world collapses, Sally will discover whether it is possible to use her cinematic talents to atone for her transgressions or if, as her mentor Riefenstahl predicts, there are some sins for which penitence is impossible. Sohmer (Reading Shakespeare’s Mind, 2017, etc.) writes in a flowing prose that precisely places readers in each setting: “To Sally the open market was a baffling maze of stands and kiosks....The smell of produce, the squawk of geese and chickens, and the crying of vendors created a concoction of odors, colors and commotion that was at once carnivalesque and rancid.” At nearly 1,000 pages, the novel is as sweeping as the cinema epics of the era, featuring a massive cast of characters (many of whom were real people). While at times it feels a bit overstuffed, the level of immersion the author achieves is breathtaking and should enthrall fans of old Hollywood and World War II buffs alike. Through the willful, naïve, and not-so-innocent Sally, Sohmer deftly explores the complexities of art from myriad angles: the nature of “political” works, the witnessing power of documentaries, the perniciousness of patronage, the dangers of romanticism, and the possibility of ever separating artists from their creations. The book delivers all of the requisite thrills of the historical fiction genre while managing to provide a thoughtful critique of the potency of the moving image—one that readers should find surprisingly relevant to their own time.

An epic and illuminating tale of moviemaking in the Third Reich.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 989

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Feb. 22, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2018

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A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

DEVOLUTION

Are we not men? We are—well, ask Bigfoot, as Brooks does in this delightful yarn, following on his bestseller World War Z (2006).

A zombie apocalypse is one thing. A volcanic eruption is quite another, for, as the journalist who does a framing voice-over narration for Brooks’ latest puts it, when Mount Rainier popped its cork, “it was the psychological aspect, the hyperbole-fueled hysteria that had ended up killing the most people.” Maybe, but the sasquatches whom the volcano displaced contributed to the statistics, too, if only out of self-defense. Brooks places the epicenter of the Bigfoot war in a high-tech hideaway populated by the kind of people you might find in a Jurassic Park franchise: the schmo who doesn’t know how to do much of anything but tries anyway, the well-intentioned bleeding heart, the know-it-all intellectual who turns out to know the wrong things, the immigrant with a tough backstory and an instinct for survival. Indeed, the novel does double duty as a survival manual, packed full of good advice—for instance, try not to get wounded, for “injury turns you from a giver to a taker. Taking up our resources, our time to care for you.” Brooks presents a case for making room for Bigfoot in the world while peppering his narrative with timely social criticism about bad behavior on the human side of the conflict: The explosion of Rainier might have been better forecast had the president not slashed the budget of the U.S. Geological Survey, leading to “immediate suspension of the National Volcano Early Warning System,” and there’s always someone around looking to monetize the natural disaster and the sasquatch-y onslaught that follows. Brooks is a pro at building suspense even if it plays out in some rather spectacularly yucky episodes, one involving a short spear that takes its name from “the sucking sound of pulling it out of the dead man’s heart and lungs.” Grossness aside, it puts you right there on the scene.

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

Pub Date: June 16, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-2678-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

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THE VANISHING HALF

Inseparable identical twin sisters ditch home together, and then one decides to vanish.

The talented Bennett fuels her fiction with secrets—first in her lauded debut, The Mothers (2016), and now in the assured and magnetic story of the Vignes sisters, light-skinned women parked on opposite sides of the color line. Desiree, the “fidgety twin,” and Stella, “a smart, careful girl,” make their break from stultifying rural Mallard, Louisiana, becoming 16-year-old runaways in 1954 New Orleans. The novel opens 14 years later as Desiree, fleeing a violent marriage in D.C., returns home with a different relative: her 8-year-old daughter, Jude. The gossips are agog: “In Mallard, nobody married dark....Marrying a dark man and dragging his blueblack child all over town was one step too far.” Desiree's decision seals Jude’s misery in this “colorstruck” place and propels a new generation of flight: Jude escapes on a track scholarship to UCLA. Tending bar as a side job in Beverly Hills, she catches a glimpse of her mother’s doppelgänger. Stella, ensconced in White society, is shedding her fur coat. Jude, so Black that strangers routinely stare, is unrecognizable to her aunt. All this is expertly paced, unfurling before the book is half finished; a reader can guess what is coming. Bennett is deeply engaged in the unknowability of other people and the scourge of colorism. The scene in which Stella adopts her White persona is a tour de force of doubling and confusion. It calls up Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, the book's 50-year-old antecedent. Bennett's novel plays with its characters' nagging feelings of being incomplete—for the twins without each other; for Jude’s boyfriend, Reese, who is trans and seeks surgery; for their friend Barry, who performs in drag as Bianca. Bennett keeps all these plot threads thrumming and her social commentary crisp. In the second half, Jude spars with her cousin Kennedy, Stella's daughter, a spoiled actress.

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-53629-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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