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A FALL OF MARIGOLDS

Touching and inspirational.

A scarf ties together the stories of two women as they struggle with personal journeys 100 years apart in Meissner’s historical novel (The Girl in the Glass, 2012, etc.).

In 1911, Clara Wood witnesses the traumatic death of the man she loves in the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire and chooses to bury her grief and guilt while ministering to sick immigrants on Ellis Island. The hospital’s remote and insulated from the rest of New York City, and she refuses travel to the mainland, even on her days off. Then an emigrant Welshman wrapped in his deceased wife’s distinctive marigold scarf arrives, and Clara finds herself reaching beyond her normal duties to help the quarantined man. The truths she uncovers about his wife trigger reflections about ethical decisions and compel her to examine her own convictions about life and a person’s capacity to love, as a colleague tries to help her. Gently interwoven into Clara’s tale is the story of widow Taryn Michaels, whose life 100 years later in some ways parallels Clara’s. Taryn works in a tony fabric shop, raises her daughter in the apartment above and does her best to avoid the overwhelming emotions she’s felt since she stood across the street from the World Trade Center and witnessed the destruction as the first tower crumbled. A recently discovered photo from that day is published in a national magazine and now, 10 years after 9/11, Taryn is forced to relive the events and face the guilt she’s harbored because she acceded to a customer’s request and stopped by a hotel to pick up a marigold scarf, an action that delayed Taryn from joining her husband at Windows on the World for a celebration she’d planned. Meissner is a practiced writer whose two main characters cope with universal themes that many people deal with: loss, survivor’s guilt, and permitting oneself to move on and achieve happiness again. Although their stories are unbalanced—Clara’s account dominates the narrative—the author creates two sympathetic, relatable characters that readers will applaud.

Touching and inspirational.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-451-41991-0

Page Count: 400

Publisher: New American Library

Review Posted Online: Dec. 6, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2013

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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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