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

WAITING FOR ROBERT CAPA

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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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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A masterly encapsulation of modern Russian history, this book more than fulfills the promise of Towles' stylish debut, Rules...

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A GENTLEMAN IN MOSCOW

Sentenced to house arrest in Moscow's Metropol Hotel by a Bolshevik tribunal for writing a poem deemed to encourage revolt, Count Alexander Rostov nonetheless lives the fullest of lives, discovering the depths of his humanity.

Inside the elegant Metropol, located near the Kremlin and the Bolshoi, the Count slowly adjusts to circumstances as a "Former Person." He makes do with the attic room, to which he is banished after residing for years in a posh third-floor suite. A man of refined taste in wine, food, and literature, he strives to maintain a daily routine, exploring the nooks and crannies of the hotel, bonding with staff, accepting the advances of attractive women, and forming what proves to be a deeply meaningful relationship with a spirited young girl, Nina. "We are bound to find comfort from the notion that it takes generations for a way of life to fade," says the companionable narrator. For the Count, that way of life ultimately becomes less about aristocratic airs and privilege than generosity and devotion. Spread across four decades, this is in all ways a great novel, a nonstop pleasure brimming with charm, personal wisdom, and philosophic insight. Though Stalin and Khrushchev make their presences felt, Towles largely treats politics as a dark, distant shadow. The chill of the political events occurring outside the Metropol is certainly felt, but for the Count and his friends, the passage of time is "like the turn of a kaleidoscope." Not for nothing is Casablanca his favorite film. This is a book in which the cruelties of the age can't begin to erase the glories of real human connection and the memories it leaves behind.

A masterly encapsulation of modern Russian history, this book more than fulfills the promise of Towles' stylish debut, Rules of Civility (2011).

Pub Date: Sept. 6, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-670-02619-7

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: June 21, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2016

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