Evocative and perfectly written—trademark Modiano, in other words.

IN THE CAFÉ OF LOST YOUTH

A short, pensive novel of bohemian Paris just after the war, Nobel Prize winner Modiano’s (Missing Person, 2015, etc.) favorite time and place.

“She had known right from the outset that things would turn out badly for us.” With names like Tarzan, Fred, and La Houpa, it’s no wonder the young, disaffected patrons of the Condé—collectively known as “the lost Youth,” and some of them true juvenile delinquents plunged unwillingly into early adulthood—are at a dead end. The war is over, the Nazis are gone, and meaning has been drained from life. Ah, but there’s always Louki to provide the lookie-loo itch for everyone to scratch, young and elegant and very quiet. Who is she, and why is she with “the brown-haired guy in the suede jacket”? So, at the formative stages of a minor obsession, ponders our initial narrator, whose point of view is just one of several. One might as well ask who anyone is, for, as that narrator reveals, everyone at the Condé lives in the present, no one talks about the past, and the smarter of the patrons are bound up in endless discussions concerning “pataphysics, lettrism, automatic writing, metagraphics,” and other such heady matters. Louki’s identity, always hazy, takes clearer form as the slender narrative progresses—and as it does, some of the entanglements become a little more dangerous, and to downright tragic effect in at least one case. Much of the novel is based on the informal circle run by the now canonical philosopher Guy Debord, whose double in this novel is himself obsessed by the escapist novel Lost Horizons. Modiano touches on themes of intellectual despair and ennui without ever quite slipping into Camus-ian bleakness, but more, he writes of memory, impression, and our cursed inability to know, truly know, what reality is, to say nothing of the person across the table from us.

Evocative and perfectly written—trademark Modiano, in other words.

Pub Date: March 8, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-59017-953-6

Page Count: 124

Publisher: New York Review Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 21, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2016

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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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