A refreshingly honest read that paints an uncompromising portrait of life in all its failures, intricacies, and emotions.

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The Incarnation of Edda Ritter

From the Edda Series series , Vol. 1

In a tumultuous period in Germany’s history, a young girl grows into adulthood as she chases down her mother’s ghost in this historical novel.

Edda Ritter’s strongest memory of her childhood is a yellow kitchen. She also remembers the chocolates her father used to buy for her and the trips they used to take together. But those things seem like part of a different life after her father takes her to live in an orphanage in Berlin early in the 20th century. Edda’s mother died during childbirth and her father is about to go on a long journey, so someone has to take care of her. As she navigates life in a Catholic orphanage run by nuns—some cruel, some kind—and later serves as a Red Cross volunteer in a hospital, she begins to learn the realities of life, love, and war. The First World War brings chaos to Germany, and Edda feels adrift. Convinced that she can remember her mother dying as she was born, she searches for more memories of her as she also seeks for her father’s approval. Finding herself with child and working at a cabaret in 1920s Berlin, she still feels like something is missing, and both her country’s fate and her own are still uncertain. Hanson (Medicine Dreams, 2011, etc.) uses simple, spare prose to build a picture of Edda as someone both lost and extremely insightful about her position in life. Poised on the cusp of World War II, she observes that “in a time of blame, those chosen as targets need not be the actual cause of one’s misfortune, for it is the sting of one’s failure one wishes to assuage, and any target will do, especially those long suspected but not openly accused.” Balancing the book’s plot on the tipping point between the wars also gives it an appropriate poignancy that never crosses the line into cliché. Edda’s journey is a personal one, and although she’s a prickly character who isn’t always likable, she’s always human.

A refreshingly honest read that paints an uncompromising portrait of life in all its failures, intricacies, and emotions.

Pub Date: July 20, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-4954-8882-5

Page Count: 246

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Sept. 21, 2015

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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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