A work that weaves art and history into a fascinating tale.

POLLAK'S ARM

This historical novel depicts a few hours and many memories in the life of a Jewish art dealer.

Ludwig Pollak, an Austrian antiquities dealer and museum director in Rome, gained fame in the art world in 1906 for finding the missing right arm of the father figure in the classical sculpture Laocoön and His Sons, which stands in the Vatican Museums. In his fictional debut, von Trotha, a German historian and former book-publishing executive, imagines an encounter on Oct. 17, 1943, between a Vatican emissary identified only as K. and Pollak at the latter’s Rome apartment. K., who narrates the meeting, has been sent to offer Pollak and his family sanctuary in Vatican City because the Nazis will soon start rounding up Jews in the city. But K. is frustrated in his efforts, as Pollak, who is 75, uses the occasion to reminisce about catalogs he has written, collectors he has dealt with, and the turns his life has taken amid the growing pressures of antisemitism. His monologues are occasionally interrupted by the intrigued but increasingly nervous K., who has a car waiting outside and knows they should get going before curfew. The novel resembles a one-act play with two main performers and other figures made present by allusion and eloquence. Here they include Pollak’s memories of Rodin, Richard Strauss, and J.P. Morgan, among others, and his admiration of Goethe, who wrote an essay on the Laocoön group. The old man can sound proud, pompous, erudite, aloof, but he isn’t indulging in nostalgia for his greatest hits. He feels compelled to give a personal account of his life, regarding this as a duty more important than fleeing ahead of the Nazi roundup. Von Trotha had access to Pollak’s diaries, letters, and archival material, and he benefits from a smooth translation by Lauffer. He achieves much in this slim book, capturing a life enriched by its commitment to art and antiquities and a man who makes an unusual decision when faced with a crucial choice.

A work that weaves art and history into a fascinating tale.

Pub Date: Feb. 15, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-954404-00-7

Page Count: 160

Publisher: New Vessel Press

Review Posted Online: Nov. 16, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2021

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A whimsical fantasy about learning what’s important in life.

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THE MIDNIGHT LIBRARY

An unhappy woman who tries to commit suicide finds herself in a mysterious library that allows her to explore new lives.

How far would you go to address every regret you ever had? That’s the question at the heart of Haig’s latest novel, which imagines the plane between life and death as a vast library filled with books detailing every existence a person could have. Thrust into this mysterious way station is Nora Seed, a depressed and desperate woman estranged from her family and friends. Nora has just lost her job, and her cat is dead. Believing she has no reason to go on, she writes a farewell note and takes an overdose of antidepressants. But instead of waking up in heaven, hell, or eternal nothingness, she finds herself in a library filled with books that offer her a chance to experience an infinite number of new lives. Guided by Mrs. Elm, her former school librarian, she can pull a book from the shelf and enter a new existence—as a country pub owner with her ex-boyfriend, as a researcher on an Arctic island, as a rock star singing in stadiums full of screaming fans. But how will she know which life will make her happy? This book isn't heavy on hows; you won’t need an advanced degree in quantum physics or string theory to follow its simple yet fantastical logic. Predicting the path Nora will ultimately choose isn’t difficult, either. Haig treats the subject of suicide with a light touch, and the book’s playful tone will be welcome to readers who like their fantasies sweet if a little too forgettable.

A whimsical fantasy about learning what’s important in life.

Pub Date: Sept. 29, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-52-555947-4

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: July 14, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2020

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Warning: Between lurid scenes of plague and paradise, whiplash may ensue.

WISH YOU WERE HERE

A young woman finds herself at a Covid-induced crossroads in Picoult’s latest ultratopical novel.

Sotheby’s associate Diana O'Toole, age 29, and her surgical resident boyfriend, Finn, are planning a trip to the Galapagos in March 2020. But as New York City shuts down, Finn is called to do battle against Covid-19 in his hospital’s ICU and ER, while Diana, at his urging, travels to the archipelago alone. She arrives on Isabela Island just as quarantine descends and elects to stay, though her luggage was lost, her hotel is shuttered, and her Spanish is “limited.” What follows is the meticulously researched depiction Picoult readers have come to expect, of the flora and fauna of this island and both its paradisiacal and dangerous aspects. Beautiful lagoons hide riptides, spectacular volcanic vistas conceal deep pits—and penguins bite! A hotel employee known only as Abuela gives Diana shelter at her home. Luckily, Abuela’s grandson Gabriel, a former tour guide, speaks flawless English, as does his troubled daughter, Beatriz, 14, who was attending school off-island when the pandemic forced her back home. Beatriz and Diana bond over their distant and withholding mothers: Diana’s is a world-famous photographer now consigned to a memory care facility with early-onset Alzheimer’s, while Beatriz’s ran off with a somewhat less famous photographer. Despite patchy cellphone signals and Wi-Fi, emails from Finn break through, describing, also in Picoult’s spare-no-detail starkness, the horrors of his long shifts as the virus wreaks its variegated havoc and the cases and death toll mount. Diana is venturing into romantically and literally treacherous waters when Picoult yanks this novel off life-support by resorting to a flagrantly hackneyed plot device. Somehow, though, it works, thanks again to that penchant for grounding every fictional scenario in thoroughly documented fact. Throughout, we are treated to pithy if rather self-evident thematic underscoring, e.g. “You can’t plan your life….Because then you have a plan. Not a life.”

Warning: Between lurid scenes of plague and paradise, whiplash may ensue.

Pub Date: Nov. 30, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-984818-41-6

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Jan. 12, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2022

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