Dark and beguiling; Remizov is a writer worth knowing about, and this slender volume makes a good start.


An all but forgotten, little-translated Russian writer emerges from the shadows with this sometimes-bleak, sometimes-surreal tale.

Piotr Alekseevich Marakulin is a bookkeeper so meticulous in his work that his colleagues in a turn-of-the-century, pre-revolutionary St. Petersburg brokerage call him “the German.” Alas, one day the books don’t balance, and though Marakulin thinks it’s a practical joke, he’s fired. Being sacked first gives him the bracing realization that “a man is as indifferent as a beam to the fate of another,” then plunges him into the existential doldrums. A leading proponent of modernism, Remizov (1877–1957) often took themes from Russian folklore and religion and worked them into his fiction; here the story of Marakulin is less folkloric, though, and more a mashup of Dickens and Gogol, the poor clerk as a sad sack of an Everyman, the ratty tenement in which he lives a microcosm—and a kind of living museum of every kind of suffering. The “sisters of the cross” of the title are the women of the building, who, since the men are off at work, are the exemplars of the world’s soul-trying harshness; one, for instance, is the widow of a famed general who, by dint of that connection, has a nicer apartment than most and invites the fate of Aliona Ivanovna of Crime and Punishment; she winds up, in one of several unpleasant scenes, “lying on the pavement with her spine shattered and her face pushed into the stones.” Since Marakulin has inherited a kind of dumb innocence from his ethereal mother, who “was moved and tormented by everything,” it’s easy to play him, all the more so when he is smitten by a fallen actress, Verochka. The narrative is sometimes fusty, the echoes of the passion a little evident, but the out-of-the-blue ending is worth the price of admission.

Dark and beguiling; Remizov is a writer worth knowing about, and this slender volume makes a good start.

Pub Date: Dec. 19, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-231-18542-4

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Columbia Univ.

Review Posted Online: Oct. 31, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2017

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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

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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

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