Intellectually and morally pretentious.


A didactic, overearnest allegory about the evils of colonialism and male chauvinism—in a story set in Germany and the former German colony of South West Africa, now Namibia.

As always, Brink is best at describing the landscape, in this case of the austerely beautiful but unforgiving great Namib Desert and the Bushmen, African tribes, and German settlers who live there. He’s less successful, though—thanks to no allowance for shading—in addressing the ideas and themes that implacably drive the story. Hanna X, a mutilated German woman raised in an orphanage, makes a decision that changes her life. Living in a desert refuge for women that’s also a brothel, she describes the events that led her to flee the refuge and embark, like her heroine Joan of Arc, on a brutal crusade. Moving back and forth between her years in Germany and the events in Africa, she relates how her childhood in Germany was a period of sexual abuse by the orphanage pastor as well as by many of her employers. Once in Africa, she fared even worse. Longing to see the world, she joined with women—in the early 1900s—who were sent by the German government to be the wives of the bachelor German settlers. On the train journey from the port to the colonial capital, however, Hanna is not only raped but terribly mutilated by one of the soldiers accompanying them: her tongue is removed, her ears and genitalia cut off. Later, when Hanna sees young Katya, an orphan at the refuge, being assaulted by a visiting German officer, she kills him, hides his body, and, with Katya, heads into the desert. As the two women journey to the capital to find the man who mutilated her, Hanna encourages those African tribes also bent on avenging the colonialists to join them. They defeat a German fort, though in another action, only Katya and Hanna will survive.

Intellectually and morally pretentious.

Pub Date: June 1, 2003

ISBN: 0-15-100770-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2003

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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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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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