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WAITING FOR ROBERT CAPA

Flawed but striking, this short novel shines a light on artists in times of love and war.

Love and photography bring two young exiles together in this based-on-fact real-life tragic romance.

When two young refugees meet in Paris in 1935, the world seems to be falling apart. Both Gerta Pohorylle and André Friedmann are Jews, exiles from the expanding Nazi regime (she is German, he Hungarian). Both are scraping by, enjoying a wild bohemian last gasp as the city fills with other penniless refugees and the native Parisians turn increasingly hostile, and their alliance is at first one of survival. She takes him on as a project, dressing him for success as a photojournalist. He, in turn, teaches her his art: " 'You have to be there,' he'd say, 'glued to your prey, lying in wait, in order to be able to shoot at the exact moment.' " They become lovers and adopt new names, and as Gerda Taro and Robert Capa travel to Spain to document what is becoming a brutal civil war. In that harsh land, they both blossom as artists and war journalists, their bohemian principles made flesh, before war catches up with them. In this short historical novel, Spanish novelist Fortes captures the complexity of pre–World War II Europe. Anarchists and Dadaists bond and then fall out, as various groups scramble for scraps and young people try to have fun. The personalities of the two main figures are fully imagined, rooted in existing biographical works, as are many of their peers. The burgeoning war also comes alive in poetic terms: "In the distance, Madrid was a white rabbit at the mercy of the hunting hounds." At times, however, the need to reassert the journalistic reality of these characters interferes, as awkward identifications disrupt the prose ("Gerda could still see the writer Gustav Regler's face as he was being carried out of the rubble"). Still, this vivid novel gives us a snapshot of a continent falling into chaos.

Flawed but striking, this short novel shines a light on artists in times of love and war.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-06-200038-5

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Perennial/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Sept. 19, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2011

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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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