Author: M.L. Malcolm
Genre: Fiction (Historical / WWII / post-WWII)
Publisher/Publication Date: HarperCollins (4/5/2011)
Source: TLC Book Tours
Did I finish?: Yes.
One-sentence summary: Two unappealing Hoffmans muck up their lives and the lives of the people they know.
Reading Challenges: Historical Fiction
Do I like the cover?: Yes, but it's one of the sources of my frustration. The cover evokes a very different feel than the actual novel.
First line: If the city of Tangier had been a woman, she would have been a whore, and a wealthy one.
Do... I think this can be read as a stand-alone novel?: YES. All the context and background needed is offered in the first chapter. In fact, having finished the first book just an hour to starting this one, I was rather impatient with the recapping.
Was... I super annoyed that this wasn't really a book about WWII?: YES. The jacket copy paints a very different novel than the one I read.
Did... this novel feel like The English Patient meets Casino?: YES. And while both were very lovely, glossy, exciting films, the mix of the two didn't make a very good novel for me.
Why did I get this book?: I'd heard such great things about the first book and wanted to be the first to read the sequel!
Review: It feels a bit unfair that I'm reviewing this book: were I not on this tour I never would have read it, given my dislike of the first book. But I was committed to the tour so I tried hard to give this book a fair reading.
Many of the problems I had with the first novel I had with this one: very thin characterization, an abundance of plot, and not enough pages to thoroughly explore the myriad events the characters experience. The novel spans 1942 through 1963, mostly through the viewpoint of Maddy Hoffman, the daughter of the previous book's protaganist, Leo Hoffman.
As with Heart of Lies, there was way too much telling (rather than showing), and novel moved along at a rather dizzying clip. Much of the novel felt like an outline -- I kept waiting for Malcolm to flesh out the responses to all the events and ludicrous plot twists. Surely all the bizarre and over-the-top scenes would lead to some character development and introspection, but Leo and Maddy just plodded along, unchanged, unmoved by their lives. The secondary characters circled only to be foils and adoring fans. (And unfortunately, unlike them, I greatly disliked Leo and Maddy.)
One of the unfortunate effects of the brisk pace and superficial narrative was that the portion of the novel set during the Holocaust came off remarkably light, especially since readers were repeatedly reminded of Leo Hoffman's Jewish heritage -- and Malcolm pointedly gave him a stint at a German work camp. I don't think writers are obligated to make stories about the Holocaust traumatic, but it felt a bit cheap to incorporate that into the story without any introspection, reflection, analysis, critique, or even narrative about the experience. It was just one of a dozen credulity-straining events that felt thrown in only because the author was reluctant to ignore any historical event in this time range.
Of the two Leo Hoffman novels, however, I marginally prefer this one. When I was struggling with Heart of Lies, I went back and forth about whether I should finish it or just skip to this one -- and I wish I had done the latter. The arc of this book doesn't hinge on the first and in some ways, reading this without the first would be like going through life with Maddy, confused and uncertain about her father.
Many other readers loved Malcolm's first novel and will likely love this one; for more reviews, please see the rest of the blogs on this tour.
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