Moving, absorbing and engaging: first-rate fiction that will appeal to the literary-minded as well as those in search of...


A dying Massachusetts town in the early decades of the 19th century forms the evocative backdrop for a richly imagined cast of characters.

Indeed, Diamant (The Red Tent, 1997, etc.) throws almost too many people at us simultaneously in the opening chapter. Seventeen characters are introduced in considerable detail at the 1814 wake for one of the few remaining men in the “collection of broken huts and hovels” derisively called Dogtown by its more prosperous neighbors on Cape Ann. The women who gather to bid farewell to Abraham Wharf include mysterious Black Ruth, an African who dresses in men’s clothes; wizened Easter Carter, who keeps a meager tavern in her home; vicious Tammy Younger, reputed to be a witch; a trio of bedraggled prostitutes; and warmhearted Judy Rhines, who will stand at the novel’s emotional center. The only living man present is brutal John Stanwood; two boys there, Sammy Stanley and Oliver Young, will find very different paths for themselves over the next 20 years. Diamant quickly and obliquely sketches complex relationships among characters we have just met, which may be initially confusing or even annoying to some readers. But as the narrative pulls back to reveal various individuals’ pasts, she skillfully elicits sympathy for many of these hard-pressed people and makes even the nastiest of them creepily fascinating. All of Dogtown’s residents have suffered blows from a brutal society, or fate’s random workings, or both. The saddest story is the deep, thwarted love of Judy and Cornelius Finson, a free African who happily shared her bed for a few years until warned off by a local racist. They long for each other as they pursue separate destinies and as Dogtown grows poorer and shabbier. Anyone who can leaves, but only Oliver finds a happy marriage and children. One by one, the inhabitants die off, and Diamant does not spare us the grim details. This is a deeply satisfying novel, populated by people we care about, delineated in spare, elegant prose.

Moving, absorbing and engaging: first-rate fiction that will appeal to the literary-minded as well as those in search of just a plain-old good read.

Pub Date: Sept. 13, 2005

ISBN: 0-7432-2573-2

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2005

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

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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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While a few weeks ago it seemed as if Praeger would have a two month lead over Dutton in their presentation of this Soviet best seller, both the "authorized" edition (Dutton's) and the "unauthorized" (Praeger's) will appear almost simultaneously. There has been considerable advance attention on what appears to be as much of a publishing cause celebre here as the original appearance of the book in Russia. Without entering into the scrimmage, or dismissing it as a plague on both your houses, we will limit ourselves to a few facts. Royalties from the "unauthorized" edition will go to the International Rescue Committee; Dutton with their contracted edition is adhering to copyright conventions. The Praeger edition has two translators and one of them is the translator of Doctor Zhivago Dutton's translator, Ralph Parker, has been stigmatized by Praeger as "an apologist for the Soviet regime". To the untutored eye, the Dutton translation seems a little more literary, the Praeger perhaps closer to the rather primitive style of the original. The book itself is an account of one day in the three thousand six hundred and fifty three days of the sentence to be served by a carpenter, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. (Solzhenitsyn was a political prisoner.) From the unrelenting cold without, to the conditions within, from the bathhouse to the latrine to the cells where survival for more than two weeks is impossible, this records the hopeless facts of existence as faced by thousands who went on "living like this, with your eyes on the ground". The Dutton edition has an excellent introduction providing an orientation on the political background to its appearance in Russia by Marvin Kalb. All involved in its publication (translators, introducers, etc.) claim for it great "artistic" values which we cannot share, although there is no question of its importance as a political and human document and as significant and tangible evidence of the de-Stalinization program.

Pub Date: June 15, 1963

ISBN: 0451228146

Page Count: 181

Publisher: Praeger

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1963

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