An ambitious but flawed first outing.

THOSE WHO SAVE US

An emotionally estranged mother and daughter are reconciled when the daughter learns the truth about her German mother’s actions in WWII.

Blum, who is half-Jewish and of German descent, worked for Steven Spielberg’s Shoah Foundation as an interviewer of Holocaust survivors—and her first fiction is suffused with details about life in wartime Germany, where her protagonists Anna Schlemmer and her daughter Trudy were both born. Trudy, now a professor of German history in the Twin Cities, is divorced and, as an only child, is responsible for Anna, who has to be put in a home soon after the death of her husband Jack, the American soldier she married at war’s end. Anna rarely talks, and Trudy, who has seen a picture of her mother with a Nazi officer and a young Trudy, believing herself his daughter, is deeply ashamed. The two women tell their separate stories here as Trudy starts work on a project that involves interviewing Germans who were in Germany during the war. Anna recalls how, at 19, and living at home with her Nazi father in Weimar, she met Jewish doctor Max Stern. She hid him in her house, but Max was discovered. Anna, pregnant with Max’s child, moved in with Mathilde, a baker helping the Resistance. After daughter Trudy was born in 1940, Anna also began working for the Resistance, delivering bread to a nearby camp for officers and retrieving hidden messages on the way home. But when she witnesses a brutal killing by Horst, an officer at the camp, and was seen by him, she became his mistress in order to save Trudy’s life. Trudy finally learns the truth of her paternity—but her mother’s long and insufficiently motivated silence about it isn’t persuasive.

An ambitious but flawed first outing.

Pub Date: April 1, 2004

ISBN: 0-15-101019-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2004

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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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More about grief and tragedy than romance.

FRIENDS FOREVER

Five friends meet on their first day of kindergarten at the exclusive Atwood School and remain lifelong friends through tragedy and triumph.

When Gabby, Billy, Izzie, Andy and Sean meet in the toy kitchen of the kindergarten classroom on their first day of school, no one can know how strong the group’s friendship will remain. Despite their different personalities and interests, the five grow up together and become even closer as they come into their own talents and life paths. But tragedy will strike and strike again. Family troubles, abusive parents, drugs, alcohol, stress, grief and even random bad luck will put pressure on each of them individually and as a group. Known for her emotional romances, Steel makes a bit of a departure with this effort that follows a group of friends through young adulthood. But even as one tragedy after another befalls the friends, the impact of the events is blunted by a distant narrative style that lacks emotional intensity. 

More about grief and tragedy than romance.

Pub Date: July 24, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-385-34321-3

Page Count: 322

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: Nov. 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2012

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