More history lesson than stylish fiction.

THE HERETIC

A NOVEL OF THE INQUISITION

Spanish novelist Delibes (The Wars of Our Ancestors, 1992, etc.) fashions a poignant, although pale and rather bloated encomium to the early Reformation history of his hometown, Valladolid.

In the mid-16th century, this northwestern Castilian city was home to many Protestant dissenters chafing against the strictures of the Inquisition. Delibes’s story concerns Cipriano Salcedo, son of thin-blooded, well-to-do businessman Bernardo Salcedo, and his beautiful wife Catalina, who died after giving birth to her only child. The boy’s early years are hardly noteworthy; indeed, the author devotes more attention to widowed Bernardo’s heated efforts to find a suitable bedfellow, ultimately successful when 15-year-old virgin Petra Gregorio turns out to be a sexual dynamo. Delibes does take a moment to introduce Cipriano’s peasant nurse Minervina, who will play a part in his later history when he is judged a heretic and condemned to burn at the stake. First, however, Cipriano grows up and marries, then experiences the same fertility problem as his father. His wife dies, and Cipriano gradually entangles himself in the secretive local Protestant society led by Doctor Cazalla. Its shadowy adherents believe they are following the clandestine tradition of the apostles and the Christians in the catacombs. At their dangerous meetings, Cipriano learns to accept the Protestant party line: Purgatory doesn’t exist, nuns and priests cannot be held to celibacy, confession should not be spoken aloud. He embarks on perilous journeys as proselytizer, supervising the printing of anti-papal documents and expounding his beliefs at various far-flung convents. In the end, the Holy Office prevails; the heretical society is betrayed by one of its own.

More history lesson than stylish fiction.

Pub Date: April 1, 2006

ISBN: 1-58567-570-9

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Overlook

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2006

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

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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

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Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

THE NIGHTINGALE

Hannah’s new novel is an homage to the extraordinary courage and endurance of Frenchwomen during World War II.

In 1995, an elderly unnamed widow is moving into an Oregon nursing home on the urging of her controlling son, Julien, a surgeon. This trajectory is interrupted when she receives an invitation to return to France to attend a ceremony honoring passeurs: people who aided the escape of others during the war. Cut to spring, 1940: Viann has said goodbye to husband Antoine, who's off to hold the Maginot line against invading Germans. She returns to tending her small farm, Le Jardin, in the Loire Valley, teaching at the local school and coping with daughter Sophie’s adolescent rebellion. Soon, that world is upended: The Germans march into Paris and refugees flee south, overrunning Viann’s land. Her long-estranged younger sister, Isabelle, who has been kicked out of multiple convent schools, is sent to Le Jardin by Julien, their father in Paris, a drunken, decidedly unpaternal Great War veteran. As the depredations increase in the occupied zone—food rationing, systematic looting, and the billeting of a German officer, Capt. Beck, at Le Jardin—Isabelle’s outspokenness is a liability. She joins the Resistance, volunteering for dangerous duty: shepherding downed Allied airmen across the Pyrenees to Spain. Code-named the Nightingale, Isabelle will rescue many before she's captured. Meanwhile, Viann’s journey from passive to active resistance is less dramatic but no less wrenching. Hannah vividly demonstrates how the Nazis, through starvation, intimidation and barbarity both casual and calculated, demoralized the French, engineering a community collapse that enabled the deportations and deaths of more than 70,000 Jews. Hannah’s proven storytelling skills are ideally suited to depicting such cataclysmic events, but her tendency to sentimentalize undermines the gravitas of this tale.

Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

Pub Date: Feb. 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-312-57722-3

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 20, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2014

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