An intermittently slow read, but an important early work in the career of one of the best living German writers.

MORENGA

The German colonial experience in Africa is the subject of this dense, often fascinating 1983 novel by the German author (Midsummer Night, 1998, etc.).

Relations between German colonists and both Herero and Hottentot tribes grow dangerously strained in the former South West Africa (now Namibia) in the early 20th century—and a 34-year-old “Veterinary Lieutenant (i.e., “horse doctor’) identified as Gottschalk arrives, with vague hopes of becoming both a helpful and a civilizing influence (“. . . at some point there will be eyes in this wilderness reading Goethe, ears listening to Mozart”). Excerpts from Gottschalk’s diary express his opposition to genocidal policies carried out in attempts to seize African lands, and are juxtaposed against the tale’s semidocumentary materials. These latter include (rather dry) “Battle Reports” describing campaigns led by uncompromising Teutonic commanders General von Trotha and “daredevil” Colonel Deimling, and (much more interesting) “Regional Studies,” which retell stories of earlier “conquests” (e.g., the misadventures of the hopeful, hapless English missionary Goth, and the failed entrepreneurial efforts of “energetic” surveyor Treptow). Portrayals of native African heroes (like the eponymous Herero leader and his Hottentot counterpart Witbooi) are elliptical and fragmentary, but succeed nevertheless as components of a syndrome of ironic contrasts between the African peoples and their putative superiors. That contrast is succinctly stated in a scientific report alleging that Hottentot society cannot be civilized, because within it “competition is negated by the principle of mutual aid . . . [as lived by] a human type that devotes all its intelligence . . . to the single goal of living comfortably.” The thickness of detail and mastered research are thus efficiently harnessed to Timm’s theme: the devastating consequences of collisions between what are conventionally called civilization and primitivism.

An intermittently slow read, but an important early work in the career of one of the best living German writers.

Pub Date: Feb. 26, 2003

ISBN: 0-8112-1514-8

Page Count: 384

Publisher: New Directions

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2003

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as...

Reader Votes

  • Readers Vote
  • 12

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

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

Did you like this book?

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

Google Rating

  • google rating
  • google rating
  • google rating
  • google rating
  • google rating
  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2014

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • National Book Award Finalist

  • Pulitzer Prize Winner

ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

Doerr presents us with two intricate stories, both of which take place during World War II; late in the novel, inevitably, they intersect.

In August 1944, Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a blind 16-year-old living in the walled port city of Saint-Malo in Brittany and hoping to escape the effects of Allied bombing. D-Day took place two months earlier, and Cherbourg, Caen and Rennes have already been liberated. She’s taken refuge in this city with her great-uncle Etienne, at first a fairly frightening figure to her. Marie-Laure’s father was a locksmith and craftsman who made scale models of cities that Marie-Laure studied so she could travel around on her own. He also crafted clever and intricate boxes, within which treasures could be hidden. Parallel to the story of Marie-Laure we meet Werner and Jutta Pfennig, a brother and sister, both orphans who have been raised in the Children’s House outside Essen, in Germany. Through flashbacks we learn that Werner had been a curious and bright child who developed an obsession with radio transmitters and receivers, both in their infancies during this period. Eventually, Werner goes to a select technical school and then, at 18, into the Wehrmacht, where his technical aptitudes are recognized and he’s put on a team trying to track down illegal radio transmissions. Etienne and Marie-Laure are responsible for some of these transmissions, but Werner is intrigued since what she’s broadcasting is innocent—she shares her passion for Jules Verne by reading aloud 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A further subplot involves Marie-Laure’s father’s having hidden a valuable diamond, one being tracked down by Reinhold von Rumpel, a relentless German sergeant-major.

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4658-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet
more