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. 20, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2011

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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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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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Romance and melodrama mix uneasily with mass murder.


An 18-year-old Polish girl falls in love, swoons over a first kiss, dreams of marriage—and, oh yes, we are in the middle of the Holocaust.

Jenoff (The Ambassador’s Daughter, 2013, etc.) weaves a tale of fevered teenage love in a time of horrors in the early 1940s, as the Nazis invade Poland and herd Jews into ghettos and concentration camps. A prologue set in 2013, narrated by a resident of the Westchester Senior Center, provides an intriguing setup. A woman and a policeman visit the resident and ask if she came from a small Polish village. Their purpose is unclear until they mention bones recently found there: “And we think you might know something about them.” The book proceeds in the third person, told from the points of view mostly of teenage Helena, who comes upon an injured young Jewish-American soldier, and sometimes of her twin, Ruth, who is not as adventurous as Helena but is very competitive with her. Their father is dead, their mother is dying in a hospital, and they are raising their three younger siblings amid danger and hardship. The romance between Helena and Sam, the soldier, is often conveyed in overheated language that doesn’t sit well with the era’s tragic events: “There had been an intensity to his embrace that said he was barely able to contain himself, that he also wanted more.” Jenoff, clearly on the side of tolerance, slips in a simplified historical framework for the uninformed. But she also feeds stereotypes, having Helena note that Sam has “a slight arch to his nose” and a dark complexion that “would make him suspect as a Jew immediately.” Clichés also pop up during the increasingly complex plot: “But even if they stood in place, the world around them would not.”

Romance and melodrama mix uneasily with mass murder.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-7783-1596-4

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Harlequin MIRA

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2014

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