Occasionally melodramatic, sometimes grandiloquent; those who liked Wouk’s War and Remembrance will certainly enjoy this...


Continuing Smith’s Courtney family epic (Assegai, 2009, etc.), this novel focuses on big-game hunter Leon and his daughter, Saffron, during the post–World War I era, first on their great Kenya estate, Lusima, and then as they move toward the bloody fray that became World War II.

It’s an action-packed affair beginning in Africa with coltish young Saffron outdoing the boys on horseback, then attacking Saint Moritz’s men-only Cresta Run skeleton-racing course, and ending with her manning a Vickers gun to protect the Greek nation’s gold bullion reserves. The tale regularly shifts to Leon, too, but Saffron’s adventures extend the Courtney legend, including when she falls in love with an "immediate, instinctive, animal passion" worthy of her clan. The attitude throughout is Old World British colonial, as is the dialogue. There’s more than one reference to "the local peasantry." Saffron attends school in South Africa and Oxford. There she makes German friends who will lead to connections regarding her father’s fortune and makes a disconcerting reacquaintance with his old enemies, the von Meerbach dynasty. As this story ends, Saffron is spotted by a mysterious older gentlemen connected to Britain’s Special Operations Executive, while the man who stirred her animal passion is witness to the Babi Yar massacre. Meanwhile, Leon’s been forced to helm the family's Cairo-based business, which is threatened by brother Frank’s worship of Oswald Mosley. With cameo appearances by the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, Hitler, and Reinhard Heydrich and traveling everyplace from the Ritz in London to a Masai village, the story is wonderfully plotted, woven together by quick but not disconcerting cinematic shifts from scene to scene in a narrative that keeps the pages turning.

Occasionally melodramatic, sometimes grandiloquent; those who liked Wouk’s War and Remembrance will certainly enjoy this Smith saga.

Pub Date: April 4, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-06-227649-0

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 21, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2017

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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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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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Romance and melodrama mix uneasily with mass murder.


An 18-year-old Polish girl falls in love, swoons over a first kiss, dreams of marriage—and, oh yes, we are in the middle of the Holocaust.

Jenoff (The Ambassador’s Daughter, 2013, etc.) weaves a tale of fevered teenage love in a time of horrors in the early 1940s, as the Nazis invade Poland and herd Jews into ghettos and concentration camps. A prologue set in 2013, narrated by a resident of the Westchester Senior Center, provides an intriguing setup. A woman and a policeman visit the resident and ask if she came from a small Polish village. Their purpose is unclear until they mention bones recently found there: “And we think you might know something about them.” The book proceeds in the third person, told from the points of view mostly of teenage Helena, who comes upon an injured young Jewish-American soldier, and sometimes of her twin, Ruth, who is not as adventurous as Helena but is very competitive with her. Their father is dead, their mother is dying in a hospital, and they are raising their three younger siblings amid danger and hardship. The romance between Helena and Sam, the soldier, is often conveyed in overheated language that doesn’t sit well with the era’s tragic events: “There had been an intensity to his embrace that said he was barely able to contain himself, that he also wanted more.” Jenoff, clearly on the side of tolerance, slips in a simplified historical framework for the uninformed. But she also feeds stereotypes, having Helena note that Sam has “a slight arch to his nose” and a dark complexion that “would make him suspect as a Jew immediately.” Clichés also pop up during the increasingly complex plot: “But even if they stood in place, the world around them would not.”

Romance and melodrama mix uneasily with mass murder.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-7783-1596-4

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Harlequin MIRA

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2014

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