Konar approaches a difficult subject with artistic ambition.

A literary exploration of Nazi experiments.

Stasha and Pearl are 12 years old when they arrive at Auschwitz. The fact that they are 12 is insignificant to their captors; the fact that they are twins is not. Exceptional by virtue of their birth, they will join other children like themselves as special subjects for Josef Mengele. It’s under his regime that Stasha and Pearl, two halves of the same whole, are transformed into distinct individuals. And it’s at a death-camp concert—just one manifestation of Mengele’s perversity—that Pearl disappears. After her liberation, Stasha struggles through the ruins of the world she once knew, searching for her missing half and hungering for revenge against the monster who ruled Auschwitz. It’s not easy to critique a Holocaust novel. Even if the author didn’t thank particular survivors in her acknowledgements—and she does—it’s difficult to escape the sense that any complaint about form or technique might be read as disparagement of the project of remembering. Certainly, Konar’s fiction draws the reader’s attention to a gruesome paradox: the veneer of science only makes Nazi atrocities more horrifying, just as the meticulous medical attention and occasional kindness Mengele offered his subjects only damn him as a monster. Konar’s fiction also draws the reader’s attention to Konar’s style as a writer. The synopsis at the beginning of this review is accurate, but it’s deceptive if it suggests that plot—or forward momentum of any kind—is an important element of the book. When it comes to craft, Konar is clearly most interested in language, in metaphor and invention. Surely, there are readers who will appreciate this. Some, though, might find that the poetry puts too much distance between the reader and the reality of Auschwitz.

Konar approaches a difficult subject with artistic ambition.

Pub Date: Sept. 6, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-316-30810-6

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Lee Boudreaux/Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: June 18, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2016


These letters from some important executive Down Below, to one of the junior devils here on earth, whose job is to corrupt mortals, are witty and written in a breezy style seldom found in religious literature. The author quotes Luther, who said: "The best way to drive out the devil, if he will not yield to texts of Scripture, is to jeer and flout him, for he cannot bear scorn." This the author does most successfully, for by presenting some of our modern and not-so-modern beliefs as emanating from the devil's headquarters, he succeeds in making his reader feel like an ass for ever having believed in such ideas. This kind of presentation gives the author a tremendous advantage over the reader, however, for the more timid reader may feel a sense of guilt after putting down this book. It is a clever book, and for the clever reader, rather than the too-earnest soul.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1942

ISBN: 0060652934

Page Count: 53

Publisher: Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Oct. 17, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1943



A deeply satisfying novel, both sensuously vivid and remarkably poignant.

Norwegian novelist Jacobsen folds a quietly powerful coming-of-age story into a rendition of daily life on one of Norway’s rural islands a hundred years ago in a novel that was shortlisted for the 2017 Man Booker International Prize.

Ingrid Barrøy, her father, Hans, mother, Maria, grandfather Martin, and slightly addled aunt Barbro are the owners and sole inhabitants of Barrøy Island, one of numerous small family-owned islands in an area of Norway barely touched by the outside world. The novel follows Ingrid from age 3 through a carefree early childhood of endless small chores, simple pleasures, and unquestioned familial love into her more ambivalent adolescence attending school off the island and becoming aware of the outside world, then finally into young womanhood when she must make difficult choices. Readers will share Ingrid’s adoration of her father, whose sense of responsibility conflicts with his romantic nature. He adores Maria, despite what he calls her “la-di-da” ways, and is devoted to Ingrid. Twice he finds work on the mainland for his sister, Barbro, but, afraid she’ll be unhappy, he brings her home both times. Rooted to the land where he farms and tied to the sea where he fishes, Hans struggles to maintain his family’s hardscrabble existence on an island where every repair is a struggle against the elements. But his efforts are Sisyphean. Life as a Barrøy on Barrøy remains precarious. Changes do occur in men’s and women’s roles, reflected in part by who gets a literal chair to sit on at meals, while world crises—a war, Sweden’s financial troubles—have unexpected impact. Yet the drama here occurs in small increments, season by season, following nature’s rhythm through deaths and births, moments of joy and deep sorrow. The translator’s decision to use roughly translated phrases in conversation—i.e., “Tha’s goen’ nohvar” for "You’re going nowhere")—slows the reading down at first but ends up drawing readers more deeply into the world of Barrøy and its prickly, intensely alive inhabitants.

A deeply satisfying novel, both sensuously vivid and remarkably poignant.

Pub Date: April 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-77196-319-0

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Biblioasis

Review Posted Online: Jan. 12, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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