Moore’s subject is rectitude. Even when the subject matter is graphically horrendous, the narration remains as reserved and...

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THE LIFE OF OBJECTS

Moore (The Big Girls, 2007, etc.) focuses a narrow flashlight on World War II, specifically the daily struggles of an aristocratic couple that remains in Germany despite abhorring the Third Reich.

In 1938 County Mayo, bookish 18-year-old Beatrice is desperate to escape her humdrum life. So she is thrilled when a visiting German countess, impressed by Beatrice’s lace work, offers to take her to Berlin as a lace maker for the fabulously wealthy Metzenburgs. Countess Inéz is unaware that the German government, angry with Felix Metzenburg for refusing an ambassadorship, has requisitioned the Metzenburgs’ elegant home. Soon, they decamp to their rural estate with their fabulous collection of art and objects in tow, along with Beatrice and a couple of their most loyal retainers. For the next seven years, Beatrice bears witness as the Metzenburgs attempt a life of grace despite the war. At first, it is hard to tell whether Felix is a man of scruples or just “exquisite taste” and extremely good manners. But details accrue: his protection of the Jewish intellectual who teaches German to a smitten Beatrice, the odd mix of guests who pass through, the treasures he hides for friends and those he trades for food, the refugees he takes in. By the time conquering Soviets take Felix away for questioning, he has become a saintly figure in Beatrice’s eyes. Meanwhile, Felix’s devoted wife, Dorothea, whose Jewish heritage is an open secret, becomes a tough survivor, as does Beatrice herself. And then there’s Inéz, captivating but elusive. Actually Cuban (and Felix’s former lover), she divorces her German count for an Egyptian prince but continues to flitter in and out of Germany. Maddeningly selfish and superficial but surprisingly generous, she leaves Beatrice wondering, is she WWII-era Eurotrash or a skillful spy?

Moore’s subject is rectitude. Even when the subject matter is graphically horrendous, the narration remains as reserved and understated as the Metzenburgs, who prefer not to reveal how deeply they feel, how willingly they sacrifice, how daringly they risk.

Pub Date: Sept. 18, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-307-26843-3

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Aug. 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2012

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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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Though gripping, even moving at times, the novel doesn’t do justice to the solemn history from which it is drawn.

CILKA'S JOURNEY

In this follow-up to the widely read The Tattooist of Auschwitz (2018), a young concentration camp survivor is sentenced to 15 years’ hard labor in a Russian gulag.

The novel begins with the liberation of Auschwitz by Soviet troops in 1945. In the camp, 16-year-old Cecilia "Cilka" Klein—one of the Jewish prisoners introduced in Tattooist—was forced to become the mistress of two Nazi commandants. The Russians accuse her of collaborating—they also think she might be a spy—and send her to the Vorkuta Gulag in Siberia. There, another nightmarish scenario unfolds: Cilka, now 18, and the other women in her hut are routinely raped at night by criminal-class prisoners with special “privileges”; by day, the near-starving women haul coal from the local mines in frigid weather. The narrative is intercut with Cilka’s grim memories of Auschwitz as well as her happier recollections of life with her parents and sister before the war. At Vorkuta, her lot improves when she starts work as a nurse trainee at the camp hospital under the supervision of a sympathetic woman doctor who tries to protect her. Cilka also begins to feel the stirrings of romantic love for Alexandr, a fellow prisoner. Though believing she is cursed, Cilka shows great courage and fortitude throughout: Indeed, her ability to endure trauma—as well her heroism in ministering to the sick and wounded—almost defies credulity. The novel is ostensibly based on a true story, but a central element in the book—Cilka’s sexual relationship with the SS officers—has been challenged by the Auschwitz Memorial Research Center and by the real Cilka’s stepson, who says it is false. As in Tattooist, the writing itself is workmanlike at best and often overwrought.

Though gripping, even moving at times, the novel doesn’t do justice to the solemn history from which it is drawn.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-26570-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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