THE AGE OF LIGHT

A portrait of Lee Miller, the American cover girl and war photographer whose wild spirit captivated Picasso, Cocteau, and other eminences in 1930s Paris.

Readers meet Lee in 1966, at the farm where she retreated with her British husband, a painter and curator, after documenting Nazi atrocities and the liberation of Europe as Vogue’s war correspondent. She’s forgotten the old boxes of photoprints she heaved up to the attic—including the one of her posing in Hitler’s bathtub—and now writes mainly about food, brilliantly, though she drinks so heavily she misses deadlines. She’s expecting to get sacked when her editor suggests taking a pause to write about her years in Paris as Man Ray’s student and about some of his photos from that time. “The woman’s touch….A story only you can tell.” Cornered, Lee accepts—with one caveat: not his photos, hers. And what a story! It starts with Lee’s first glimpse of Ray at a surrealist orgy she’s dragged to by new acquaintances. After modeling couture for some of the best photographers in New York, she’s just 22 and come to the Left Bank to make art. The only male in the room wearing a suit, Ray rescues her from their leering host and invites her to drop by his studio. That Ray, who is close to 50, doesn’t come on to her means the world given Lee’s history—raped by a family friend as a young child and ogled by powerful men ever since. She’s not interested in posing, as he assumes, but makes herself indispensable by keeping him on schedule and showing his posh clients how to relax in front of a camera—a skill she acquired while posing au naturel for her weird-but-loving father, an amateur shutterbug. She’s mildly obsessed by Ray’s girlfriend, Kiki, the local chanteuse and artist’s model whom Ray has photographed nude many times. But Kiki is history the day Ray shows Lee how to print off her first photograph—the nape of a woman’s neck, her fingers scratching the skin—taken with the Rolleiflex camera he helped her buy. Later, as she thinks back on what they gave and took from each other, she’ll wonder which of them was more destroyed. Scharer sets her viewfinder selectively, focusing on her heroine’s insecurities as much as her accomplishments as an artist; her hunger to be more than “a neck to hold pearls, a slim waist to show off a belt” is contrasted with her habit of solving problems by simply leaving. The price for Lee is steep, but it makes for irresistible reading.

Sexy and moving.

Pub Date: Feb. 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-316-52408-7

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2018

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Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

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CIRCE

A retelling of ancient Greek lore gives exhilarating voice to a witch.

“Monsters are a boon for gods. Imagine all the prayers.” So says Circe, a sly, petulant, and finally commanding voice that narrates the entirety of Miller’s dazzling second novel. The writer returns to Homer, the wellspring that led her to an Orange Prize for The Song of Achilles (2012). This time, she dips into The Odyssey for the legend of Circe, a nymph who turns Odysseus’ crew of men into pigs. The novel, with its distinctive feminist tang, starts with the sentence: “When I was born, the name for what I was did not exist.” Readers will relish following the puzzle of this unpromising daughter of the sun god Helios and his wife, Perse, who had negligible use for their child. It takes banishment to the island Aeaea for Circe to sense her calling as a sorceress: “I will not be like a bird bred in a cage, I thought, too dull to fly even when the door stands open. I stepped into those woods and my life began.” This lonely, scorned figure learns herbs and potions, surrounds herself with lions, and, in a heart-stopping chapter, outwits the monster Scylla to propel Daedalus and his boat to safety. She makes lovers of Hermes and then two mortal men. She midwifes the birth of the Minotaur on Crete and performs her own C-section. And as she grows in power, she muses that “not even Odysseus could talk his way past [her] witchcraft. He had talked his way past the witch instead.” Circe’s fascination with mortals becomes the book’s marrow and delivers its thrilling ending. All the while, the supernatural sits intriguingly alongside “the tonic of ordinary things.” A few passages coil toward melodrama, and one inelegant line after a rape seems jarringly modern, but the spell holds fast. Expect Miller’s readership to mushroom like one of Circe’s spells.

Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

Pub Date: April 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-316-55634-7

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

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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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