An unsettling and insightful piece of historical fiction.

KINGS OF BROKEN THINGS

A detailed, dark novel about the complicated social dynamics in Omaha during the “Red Summer.”

Set during the end of World War I (1917-1919), this book captures the turmoil and terror of the era: soldiers returning broken, criminals running cities from the underground, poverty and prostitution rampant, lynch mobs fueled by racism and illegal liquor desperate to blame someone. It centers around three interconnected characters: Karel Miihlstein, an 11-year-old immigrant from Salzburg who lives with his father and three sisters, one of whom is very sickly; Jake Strauss, a 20-year-old lodger at the Miihlsteins’ who fled his hometown of Jackson County after he beat a man with a pick handle; and Evie Chambers, a kept woman who is passing for white and with whom Jake falls in love. Karel becomes obsessed with baseball and falls in with some delinquents. Jake, too, joins a rough crowd after coincidentally killing a man wanted by the mob boss, named Tom Dennison. He is indoctrinated into the group of “hard-drinking, chain-smoking, whore-mongering men who’d landed where they belonged.” These men, who make up “the machine” of political corruption and criminality, control the city. Wheeler (Bad Faith, 2016, etc.) paints a vivid and dynamic portrait of Omaha during this strained and sad era. Underlying the novel is a taut racial division, illustrated by the yearly interrace baseball game and culminating in a false accusation which incites a sickeningly vicious lynch mob. For its descriptions of the violent outcomes of prejudice and political misconduct, this novel at once illuminates a savage moment in history and offers a timely comment on nationalism and racism.

An unsettling and insightful piece of historical fiction.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-5039-4147-2

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Little A

Review Posted Online: May 15, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2017

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ANIMAL FARM

A FAIRY STORY

A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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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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