Fiction Based on Real People and Places, for Better and for Worse


“Who among us is not in disguise?” Jonathan Perry, narrator of EJ Levy’s debut novel CAPE DOCTOR (Little, Brown, 342 p., $28). “Which of us is truly revealing himself to the world?” This may sound like idle speculation, but for Perry, a character born Margaret Anne Bulkley based on prominent early 19th century doctor James Miranda Barry, it’s a matter of life and death. Fleeing to London from an oppressive father and brother in Ireland, Perry can pretend to be an artist’s uncle and enrolls in medical school in Edinburgh thanks to the patronage of a wealthy supporter unaware of the true story. Then there is a distinguished career as a military surgeon and a personal existence often seen as eccentric, cold-bloodedly fruitful, cold, marred by rumors that hint at a scandalous, possibly criminal, sexual connection with the colony’s aristocrats during a long stint in South Africa. Governor.

The real James Barry’s gimmick was only discovered during a post-mortem on his deathbed, and discussions about the options the game includes are still ongoing. How should Barry be considered? Trance? Male? Woman? Levy takes this perspective and chooses the latter so that the narrator can explore—sometimes bitterly, sometimes witty, always convincingly—the differences between a woman’s experience of Georgian and Victorian society and the masculine freedom found when these societal constraints are eased.

Learning new ways to walk, talk, and think is so liberating that it seems impossible to let go of deception even when the opportunity arises. “I wasn’t a woman pretending to be a man,” Perry concludes. “I was something much more shocking – a person who no longer pretends to be anything but that, a person who is just a human being…

For two of the three main characters in Catherine Chidgey’s powerful new novel, “simply being” is a huge success. AWAY SYMPATHY (Europe, 526 p., $26), It is placed on both sides of the barbed wire barriers in Buchenwald. Dr. Lenard Weber is a prisoner whose pre-war experiments catch the attention of Sturmbannführer Dietrich Hahn, the concentration camp’s supply chief, while seeking a cure for his young wife, Greta, who has ovarian cancer. Weber suspects the electrotherapy machine has failed, using “energy power” or “remote sympathy” in one part of the body to affect diseased parts elsewhere, but Hahn doesn’t know it. He has chosen to keep Greta unaware of her situation and is helpless.

Soon the men enter into a tense bargain with hypocrisy on both sides: Weber will treat Greta with a secretly combined version of the fake “Sympathetic Revival” in exchange for news of his wife and daughter, believed to be interning at Theresienstadt. knows otherwise). Secret radio broadcasts indicate that the Reich is about to be defeated. The doctor’s survival depends on keeping his patient alive until then.

Chidgey sets Weber and the Hahns’ perspectives in counterpoint, giving a chilling closeness to the daily routines of the Hahn household and the nearby inmates’ barracks. As the days pass, another kind of distant sympathy develops between Greta and her doctor. A baptized Lutheran, but of “problematic” ancestry because one of his grandparents was Jewish, Weber prefers science to religion. Forced to renounce her childhood Roman Catholicism when she married a Nazi, Greta finds solace in a secret return to her faith. Succumbing to his pleas, Weber steals a Bible from the camp’s heap of confiscated goods and prays with him as the hum of his machine protects him. Together they chant, “Save us from evil.”

For Andrew Haswell Green, one of New York’s foremost citizens, there was no salvation on November 13, 1903. That Friday, while returning home for lunch, the 83-year-old lawyer was shot dead by an assailant in the street. “Tell me where you are!” he asked. Jonathan Lee’s intriguing novel about the case, BIG MISTAKE (Knopf, 291 p., $26.95), He has all the ingredients of a thug, but is more concerned with the personal mysteries of the man who opened the city while “keeping himself closed.” Without Green, there would be no Metropolitan Museum of Art, Natural History Museum, New York Public Library, Central Park. Brooklyn, western Queens County, and Staten Island would not join Manhattan. Green’s enemies called this expansion “The Great Mistake,” but Lee’s elaborate narration gives the phrase another meaning, one that alludes to whims that could seal any man’s fate.

Don’t expect such refinements from JH Gelernter’s Napoleon thriller, HOLD FAST (Norton, 242 p., $25.95), Written with homage to Patrick O’Brian and Ian Fleming. Gelernter’s smug hero Thomas Gray has just left his post as head of the British Naval Command’s secret intelligence service in Malta, in despair over the brutal death of his wife. But when an opportunity arises to take revenge on the Frenchman he deems responsible, Gray does not hesitate. Disguised as a disgruntled ex-officer eager to sell his country’s secrets to an Irish-French spy network, he travels to Paris and uncovers crucial information about France’s war plans that must be delivered to London as soon as possible.

Along the way, he survives a duel at the Gray Bois de Boulogne, a sword fight at an ostentatious country mansion, and spending a few days on the shelf in the cellars of the Conciergerie, taking the time to tuck into an amber bed, in true James Bond fashion. -Enjoy the eyed Mademoiselle and an impressive amount of old champagne. Gelernter cares less about rounded characters, which can create some awkward moments, less about rounding up research. But his deep dives into period details also lead to some clever plot twists, as Gray decides to smuggle himself out of France in the same way that English cheese is smuggled out. And then there’s the newly released Girandoni air rifle that Gray deployed with him. Q, a kind of bravado 007’s quarters officer, would have looked sadly familiar.


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