Memorable and monumental: a book to read alongside rival and compatriot Günter Grass’ Tin Drum as a portrait of decline and...

ALL FOR NOTHING

The late German author serves up a bleak tale of the final days of World War II as a down-on-its-luck family prepares for worse to come.

Eberhard von Globig is a Sonderführer stationed in Italy, his job to ransack the country of its best foods and wines, while his wife, Katherina, “famous as a languorous beauty, black-haired and blue-eyed,” is left to run his rattletrap East Prussian estate. As Kempowski (Swansong 1945: A Collective Diary of the Last Days of the Third Reich, 2015, etc.) quickly makes clear, though, the person who is really in charge is called “Auntie,” “a sinewy old spinster with a wart on her chin” whose resourcefulness is not to be underestimated. At the center of the story, with all its roman à clef elements, is 12-year-old Peter, who would rather be doing anything than mandatory service in the Hitler Youth. Keeping a disapproving eye on him is Drygalski, the manager of a nearby estate, who, though mourning a dead son and tending to a sick wife, has plenty of time to spy on the von Globigs and their suspiciously multiethnic household, with its Polish handyman and Ukrainian maids. Into this odd scene, as Russian guns rumble on the horizon, comes a steady flow of refugees and dispossessed people: a mixed family whose sons, half Jewish, “had been dreadfully sad because they couldn’t join the Hitler Youth,” a political economist, an artist, a musician, and others. For a time it seems as if the war might bypass this odd congeries of people, as if somehow taking pity, but in time events catch up to them in the form of bullets, bombs, and columns of ghostlike people bound for the camps a step ahead of the advancing Red Army—about whom a schoolmaster remarks to Peter, hopefully, “The Russians had been here in the First War, too, and had behaved decently.”

Memorable and monumental: a book to read alongside rival and compatriot Günter Grass’ Tin Drum as a portrait of decline and fall.

Pub Date: Feb. 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-168137-205-1

Page Count: 372

Publisher: New York Review Books

Review Posted Online: Nov. 13, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2017

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Finding positivity in negative pregnancy-test results, this depiction of a marriage in crisis is nearly perfect.

ALL YOUR PERFECTS

Named for an imperfectly worded fortune cookie, Hoover's (It Ends with Us, 2016, etc.) latest compares a woman’s relationship with her husband before and after she finds out she’s infertile.

Quinn meets her future husband, Graham, in front of her soon-to-be-ex-fiance’s apartment, where Graham is about to confront him for having an affair with his girlfriend. A few years later, they are happily married but struggling to conceive. The “then and now” format—with alternating chapters moving back and forth in time—allows a hopeful romance to blossom within a dark but relatable dilemma. Back then, Quinn’s bad breakup leads her to the love of her life. In the now, she’s exhausted a laundry list of fertility options, from IVF treatments to adoption, and the silver lining is harder to find. Quinn’s bad relationship with her wealthy mother also prevents her from asking for more money to throw at the problem. But just when Quinn’s narrative starts to sound like she’s writing a long Facebook rant about her struggles, she reveals the larger issue: Ever since she and Graham have been trying to have a baby, intimacy has become a chore, and she doesn’t know how to tell him. Instead, she hopes the contents of a mystery box she’s kept since their wedding day will help her decide their fate. With a few well-timed silences, Hoover turns the fairly common problem of infertility into the more universal problem of poor communication. Graham and Quinn may or may not become parents, but if they don’t talk about their feelings, they won’t remain a couple, either.

Finding positivity in negative pregnancy-test results, this depiction of a marriage in crisis is nearly perfect.

Pub Date: July 17, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-7159-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: May 1, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2018

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Bestselling Hannah (True Colors, 2009, etc.) sabotages a worthy effort with an overly neat resolution.

WINTER GARDEN

A Russian refugee’s terrible secret overshadows her family life.

Meredith, heir apparent to her family’s thriving Washington State apple enterprises, and Nina, a globetrotting photojournalist, grew up feeling marginalized by their mother. Anya saw her daughters as merely incidental to her grateful love for their father Evan, who rescued her from a German prison camp. The girls know neither their mother’s true age, nor the answers to several other mysteries: her color-blindness, her habit of hoarding food despite the family’s prosperity and the significance of her “winter garden” with its odd Cyrillic-inscribed columns. The only thawing in Anya’s mien occurs when she relates a fairy tale about a peasant girl who meets a prince and their struggles to live happily ever after during the reign of a tyrannical Black Knight. After Evan dies, the family comes unraveled: Anya shows signs of dementia; Nina and Meredith feud over whether to move Mom from her beloved dacha-style home, named Belye Nochi after the summer “white nights” of her native Leningrad (St. Petersburg). Anya, now elderly but of preternaturally youthful appearance—her white hair has been that way as long as the girls can remember—keeps babbling about leather belts boiled for soup, furniture broken up for firewood and other oddities. Prompted by her daughters’ snooping and a few vodka-driven dinners, she grudgingly divulges her story. She is not Anya, but Vera, sole survivor of a Russian family; her father, grandmother, mother, sister, husband and two children were all lost either to Stalin’s terror or during the German army’s siege of Leningrad. Anya’s chronicle of the 900-day siege, during which more than half a million civilians perished from hunger and cold, imparts new gravitas to the novel, easily overwhelming her daughters’ more conventional “issues.” The effect, however, is all but vitiated by a manipulative and contrived ending.

Bestselling Hannah (True Colors, 2009, etc.) sabotages a worthy effort with an overly neat resolution.

Pub Date: Feb. 2, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-312-36412-0

Page Count: 400

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2009

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