A compassionate portrait of a turbulent time in American history bolstered by intriguing protagonists and a fast-paced...

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THE MARINERS HARBOR MESSIAH

A science teacher’s life becomes transformed by his friendship with a charismatic and deeply spiritual man in this novel.

Tom Haley overcame a troubled childhood to build a rewarding career as a science teacher on Staten Island. One day, while walking along the Mariners Harbor waterfront, he meets Amon Takoda, a young man living in an abandoned tugboat. The men discover an instant rapport, with Amon’s spiritual nature providing an intellectual counterpoint to Tom’s scientific inclination. Tom soon finds that Amon has unique gifts that defy rational explanation. He can recount specific details of Tom’s childhood, and he possesses the ability to heal injured animals and people. While Tom’s girlfriend, Martha, is skeptical of the magnetic stranger, Amon falls in love with her friend Mary. As word of Amon’s abilities spreads, he is profiled in the local newspaper, in which he receives the moniker “The Mariners Harbor Messiah.” With the support of Tom and the community, Amon turns an old house into a place for anyone who may have fallen on hard times. Despite Amon’s good intentions, he meets resistance from community members and developers who disapprove of his plans. When the opposition takes a violent turn, Tom fears Amon’s life may be in danger. The latest from Daley (1950s-1960s Fable, 2013, etc.) is a briskly paced exploration of the unlikely friendship between two men from completely different worlds set amid the changing social and political landscape of the 1970s. Tom and Amon are likable protagonists whose idealism inspires them to improve their community through teaching or renovating a home to serve those in need. They are complemented by a large cast of strong supporting characters, including Mary, a woman devoted to Amon and his desire to help others, and Joanie Gardello, Tom’s old high school girlfriend. Throughout the novel, Daley includes brief sketches of notable figures and events in the ’70s, including Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the Bee Gees, and the Camp David Accords. Although the sketches break the momentum of the narrative, they provide valuable historical context.

A compassionate portrait of a turbulent time in American history bolstered by intriguing protagonists and a fast-paced narrative.

Pub Date: March 30, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-5246-7483-0

Page Count: 410

Publisher: AuthorHouse

Review Posted Online: Nov. 7, 2017

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Inspired by disclosures of a real-life Florida reform school’s long-standing corruption and abusive practices, Whitehead’s...

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THE NICKEL BOYS

The acclaimed author of The Underground Railroad (2016) follows up with a leaner, meaner saga of Deep South captivity set in the mid-20th century and fraught with horrors more chilling for being based on true-life atrocities.

Elwood Curtis is a law-abiding, teenage paragon of rectitude, an avid reader of encyclopedias and after-school worker diligently overcoming hardships that come from being abandoned by his parents and growing up black and poor in segregated Tallahassee, Florida. It’s the early 1960s, and Elwood can feel changes coming every time he listens to an LP of his hero Martin Luther King Jr. sermonizing about breaking down racial barriers. But while hitchhiking to his first day of classes at a nearby black college, Elwood accepts a ride in what turns out to be a stolen car and is sentenced to the Nickel Academy, a juvenile reformatory that looks somewhat like the campus he’d almost attended but turns out to be a monstrously racist institution whose students, white and black alike, are brutally beaten, sexually abused, and used by the school’s two-faced officials to steal food and supplies. At first, Elwood thinks he can work his way past the arbitrary punishments and sadistic treatment (“I am stuck here, but I’ll make the best of it…and I’ll make it brief”). He befriends another black inmate, a street-wise kid he knows only as Turner, who has a different take on withstanding Nickel: “The key to in here is the same as surviving out there—you got to see how people act, and then you got to figure out how to get around them like an obstacle course.” And if you defy them, Turner warns, you’ll get taken “out back” and are never seen or heard from again. Both Elwood’s idealism and Turner’s cynicism entwine into an alliance that compels drastic action—and a shared destiny. There's something a tad more melodramatic in this book's conception (and resolution) than one expects from Whitehead, giving it a drugstore-paperback glossiness that enhances its blunt-edged impact.

Inspired by disclosures of a real-life Florida reform school’s long-standing corruption and abusive practices, Whitehead’s novel displays its author’s facility with violent imagery and his skill at weaving narrative strands into an ingenious if disquieting whole.

Pub Date: July 16, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-385-53707-0

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Jan. 21, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2019

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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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