A wartime coming-of-age story filled with nonstop action and genuine pathos.

MAD BOY

Across the battlefields of the War of 1812, a young boy races to carry out his mother’s dying wish and rescue his father.

When 10-year-old Henry Phipps’ mother is killed in a bizarre accident, he strikes out over the Maryland countryside to give her a burial at sea and free his alcoholic father from the Baltimore prison where his unpaid gambling debts have landed him. Arvin (The Reconstructionist, 2012, etc.) neatly blends conventional narrative, including vivid accounts of the British attack on the "muddy, malarial village" that is Washington, D.C., in August 1814 and the bombardment of Baltimore’s Fort McHenry that inspired Francis Scott Key to compose the “Star-Spangled Banner,” with refreshing touches of magic realism, like the voice of Henry’s deceased mother that guides him at key moments on his perilous journey. Henry is an engaging, resourceful hero of this picaresque tale, displaying endurance, ingenuity, and commendably mature generosity in his frequent encounters with soldiers, thieves, peddlers, and prostitutes, without ever losing passion for his twin goals. The story is seasoned with a well-drawn cast of supporting characters, including Henry’s sturdy older brother, Franklin, who survives a mock execution for desertion from his militia unit; a British soldier named Morley, who switches sides to fight with the Americans though his loyalties lie only with himself; and Radnor, a former slave who sees his best chance for permanent liberation in a victory of the redcoat army that welcomes his service. Arvin heightens the drama with a subplot that has several characters engaged in a race to recover two stolen sacks stuffed with gold and silver coin. At less than 250 pages, the novel is a masterpiece of compression without sacrificing character development to the demands of the relentless action and adventure. Sandwiched between the nation-defining glamour of the Revolutionary War and the epic conflict of the Civil War, the War of 1812 hasn’t garnered comparable attention in the world of fiction. Arvin’s robust novel helps redress that imbalance.

A wartime coming-of-age story filled with nonstop action and genuine pathos.

Pub Date: June 12, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-60945-458-6

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Europa Editions

Review Posted Online: March 20, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2018

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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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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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A nervy modern-day rebellion tale that isn’t afraid to get dark or find humor in the darkness.

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MY YEAR OF REST AND RELAXATION

A young New York woman figures there’s nothing wrong with existence that a fistful of prescriptions and months of napping wouldn’t fix.

Moshfegh’s prickly fourth book (Homesick for Another World, 2017, etc.) is narrated by an unnamed woman who’s decided to spend a year “hibernating.” She has a few conventional grief issues. (Her parents are both dead, and they’re much on her mind.) And if she’s not mentally ill, she’s certainly severely maladjusted socially. (She quits her job at an art gallery in obnoxious, scatological fashion.) But Moshfegh isn’t interested in grief or mental illness per se. Instead, she means to explore whether there are paths to living that don’t involve traditional (and wearying) habits of consumption, production, and relationships. To highlight that point, most of the people in the narrator's life are offbeat or provisional figures: Reva, her well-meaning but shallow former classmate; Trevor, a boyfriend who only pursues her when he’s on the rebound; and Dr. Tuttle, a wildly incompetent doctor who freely gives random pill samples and presses one drug, Infermiterol, that produces three-day blackouts. None of which is the stuff of comedy. But Moshfegh has a keen sense of everyday absurdities, a deadpan delivery, and such a well-honed sense of irony that the narrator’s predicament never feels tragic; this may be the finest existential novel not written by a French author. (Recovering from one blackout, the narrator thinks, “What had I done? Spent a spa day then gone out clubbing?...Had Reva convinced me to go ‘enjoy myself’ or something just as idiotic?”) Checking out of society the way the narrator does isn’t advisable, but there’s still a peculiar kind of uplift to the story in how it urges second-guessing the nature of our attachments while revealing how hard it is to break them.

A nervy modern-day rebellion tale that isn’t afraid to get dark or find humor in the darkness.

Pub Date: July 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-525-52211-9

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: April 16, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2018

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