With an announced million-copy initial printing and a national author tour, this is sure to be one of the season’s...

FALL OF GIANTS

A massive, cat-squashing, multigenerational and multifamilial saga, the first volume of what Follett (World Without End, 2007, etc.) promises as a trilogy devoted to the awful 20th century.

The giants in question, metaphorically, are the great and noble families of old Europe, a generally useless lot with a few notable exceptions. One such worthy, Lord Fitzherbert (try not to think of Bridget Jones here), is a sun around which lesser planets circle, a decent fellow who had been an admiral, British ambassador to the tsar’s court at St. Petersburg, and a government minister. His son, Earl Fitzherbert, is less notable, if fabulously wealthy: He “had done nothing to earn his huge income,” and the presence of the awful Liberals in Parliament, Winston Churchill among them, keeps him from coming into his own as the great foreign secretary he wishes he could be. Into the Fitzherbertian orbit fall the Williamses, Welsh colliers of sweet voice and radical disposition; if Follett’s sprawling story has a center, it is in Billy, who is but 13 as the saga opens and has a great deal of growing up to do. In the outlying reaches of the galaxy is Grigori Peshkov, plotter of the Bolshevik victory and slayer of tsarist officers in a scene straight out of Doctor Zhivago, a confidant of Trotsky’s, who figures in the later pages (“Trotsky took the bad news calmly. Lenin would have thrown a fit”). He’s just one of history’s greats to bow into Follett’s pages: Churchill figures into the story, as does Woodrow Wilson. But so, too, does a full six-page dramatis personae, so that there’s never a dull or unpeopled moment. Throughout it all, Follett keeps a dependable narrative chugging along; if the writing is never exalted, it is never less than workmanlike, though one wonders about anachronisms here and there. (Did Woodrow Wilson, college president and master diplomat, really say “Heck”?)

With an announced million-copy initial printing and a national author tour, this is sure to be one of the season’s inevitable and unavoidable blockbusters—and not undeservedly.

Pub Date: Sept. 28, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-525-95165-0

Page Count: 1008

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2010

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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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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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