KIRKUS REVIEW

A Jewish Dutchman leaves his native Holland in advance of Nazi occupation for the United States and is drawn into a world of wartime espionage.

Anxious about Germany’s increasing belligerence and the infiltration of Dutch Parliament by Nazis, Hans Bernsteen procures two visas—one for himself and one for his sister, Esther—to flee Holland for New York. Esther refuses to leave, though, optimistic that there is little to fear, and Hans leaves without her. Despite being a polyglot and skilled photographer, Hans finds it impossible to find employment, which is largely denied to both foreigners and Jews. He leaves for Rochester to work at Eastman Kodak, but they are not allowed to hire “aliens.” Luckily, he then meets Greta, a German-American, at a Woolworth lunch counter. They fall in love, but her brothers are unrepentant admirers of Hitler, and they conspire to steal the plans for a new bombsight technology and deliver it into German hands. Hans feels duty-bound to report this to the FBI, which ropes him into spying on Greta and her family. He’s bullied into working as a film developer in Canada and then joins the American Army as a combat photographer. He’s pushed into counterintelligence work, where his superiors note his remarkable observational skills. He ends up in French New Caledonia, and uncovers an enemy intelligence-gathering operation. Meanwhile, Esther becomes pregnant and is sent to Bergen Belsen, where she struggles to survive.

Author Hood (Off the Tracks: A Beatnik Family Journey, 2014) paints a vivid picture of war-torn Europe and the epistemological distance between those who see the inevitable and those who turn a blind eye to Nazi aggression. Her knowledge of the period’s politics is broad and her prose self-assured. The novel borrows from her father’s life, and her loving attention to her protagonist, beautifully drawn, is evident throughout. Hans is a complex figure, patriotic but conflicted, unsure where his loyalties should lie.

A thrilling, sensitively conceived historical novel.

Pub Date: Sept. 10th, 2017
ISBN: 978-0-9993946-1-8
Publisher: Waves Press
Program: Kirkus Indie
Review Posted Online: Oct. 23rd, 2017

 

Reader’s Favorite Five Star

Reviewed By Christian Sia for Readers’ Favorite

Islands of Deception by Constance Hood is a captivating story set against the harsh reality and the historic landscapes of World War Two, beginning in 1939. Meet Hans Bernsteen, a practical man with an honest appraisal of Nazi propaganda at the time. In a meeting with Esther, his sister, in Amsterdam, he tries to convince her to move with him, but to no avail. Hans goes alone to New York where he hopes to start a career in photography. Hans will become slowly absorbed into politics, serving in the US Military Intelligence under the pseudonym “Hank.” Esther, his sister, follows a unique path filled with threats from the Nazis, but she will use her charm, stealth, and intelligence to survive. As the war intensifies in the different continents, can these siblings survive? Read on to discover the rapture of great storytelling, the masterful use of suspense, and a historic setting that will take you back to very significant moments in history.

The author makes you feel what it was like to grow up as a Jew in a world riddled by Hitler’s policies by letting you follow the journey of two interesting characters in two different contexts. Read on to discover their heartaches, their will to survive in a merciless world, and their quest for inner freedom. You’ll be absorbed in the story from the beginning, but it was the compelling cast of characters that grabbed my attention, and the author’s unique knack for creating very intense and dramatic scenes. The writing is stellar and the plot so well paced it becomes impossible to stop reading. Islands of Deception features great literary elements and I particularly like Constance Hood’s masterful use of suspense, developed around the switch in the plots.

OFF THE TRACKS – KIRKUS REVIEW

Hood’s debut novel tells the story of a young girl whose divorced mother takes her family on a trip to Germany, where they live as vagabond beatniks in the early 1960s.

This family chronicle starts with 11-year-old Katrine Schloss’ newly divorced mother, Ellie, meeting Louis, an unemployed teacher from Greenwich Village. Ellie, an art teacher, is searching for both a new husband and a good time, and Louis introduces her to a new, freedom-loving way of life, even as he searches for his own identity. “Mom and Louis tried to explain to me that pursuit of possessions and pursuit of happiness are not the same thing,” Kate notes. “In other words, would I really be happier if I had a Barbie doll?” Ellie quickly adapts to the new, carefree lifestyle on weekends with Louis, who finally gets a job selling Volkswagen Beetles near Kate’s upstate New York home. The job takes him to Germany for a training program, and Ellie and her kids move there, as well, but live separately from him. The foursome takes many memorable weekend train journeys throughout Western Europe using forged Eurail passes. Kate’s mother can’t find a teaching job, though, because she speaks very little German. At one point, the family is forced to live in an unheated room on a farm with migrant workers. In the end, Ellie grows tired: “I’m not a kit, and you are not a hep cat,” she bluntly tells Louis. “I’m an art teacher and you are a car salesman.” In this debut, Hood delivers an offbeat, easy-to-read and sometimes-funny novel of the ’60s. It also offers strong historic references throughout (“Hey, did you hear that Khrushchev sent President Kennedy a New Year’s telegram?”). The surprising ending includes a shocking revelation about Louis and his pre-beatnik past.

An often appealing story about a young girl’s adventurous, yet impoverished, life on the road.