Appelfeld writes simply but gorgeously about important things, and the translation is particularly graceful and supple.


A quiet, moving and utterly convincing story about the growing love between an aging author and his companion.

Seventy when the novel opens, Ernst is a retired investment adviser who has been married twice. His first wife and their baby daughter were killed by the Nazis, and his second marriage was a mistake whose pain still torments him. At first abrupt, if not downright curmudgeonly, Ernst goes to a cafe in his Jerusalem neighborhood every morning and then spends hours writing. He’s not in robust health, so he hires Irena as a companion to supervise his care. Irena is 36 and has a simple faith far different from the angst that has bedeviled Ernst. As a boy, he rejected Judaism, much to the distress of his father, and joined the Communist Party. Eventually he became a member of the Red Army, a time that he still recalls with fondness due to its clarity: "You know who’s a friend and who’s a foe." Over time, however, he rejected communism and rediscovered the faith of his ancestors. In fact, much of the writing that now preoccupies him involves reminiscences of his devout grandfather in the Carpathian Mountains in Czernowitz (now in Ukraine and, perhaps not so coincidentally, where Appelfeld was born). Although he initially instructs Irena to destroy his manuscripts after his death because he doesn't "want strangers to grope [his] writings," over time he begins to read her excerpts, and she finds in his work a remarkable sensibility, both tender and kind. As Ernst’s health continues to deteriorate, his need to record his memories grows more desperate, and he begins to rely ever more on Irena as an empathetic listener, eventually finding in her presence "the gateway to life."

Appelfeld writes simply but gorgeously about important things, and the translation is particularly graceful and supple.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-8052-4295-9

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Schocken

Review Posted Online: March 13, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2014

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as...

Reader Votes

  • Readers Vote
  • 12

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller


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

Did you like this book?



A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

Did you like this book?