An imaginative plot and some lively dialogue can’t overcome the forced eccentricity of the characters and their facile...

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THE TRAVELING DEATH AND RESURRECTION SHOW

An unhappy performance artist imagines herself as a sacrificial lamb in this debut novel.

As the founder and editor of the ’zine Hip Mama, Gore challenged the belief that motherhood barred women from a hipster cultural scene and tapped into a readership that wanted to rewrite traditional social roles. Her insight forms the basis of this novel, in which an unlikely band of social misfits create a traveling performance-art show organized around saints, resurrections and redemptions. Behind the scenes, they come together as a family; they seek romance, take care of a child and nurture each other’s fragile egos. Frankka, the narrator and star of the show, is a stigmatic, able to replicate the wounds Jesus received on the cross. Her fellow performers include a trapeze artist, a psychic, a drag queen and a moody Italian firebreather who imagines the troupe as his salvation. The narrative alternates between Frankka’s account of her disaffection with her theatrical life—which intensifies following a newspaper article that leads to questions about her authenticity—and her brief, breezy introductions to the lives of various Catholic saints. Despite being rather overcrowded with saints and sinners alike, the story never quite takes off. The characters’ tormented relationship with their own pasts is strangely flat, their quirkiness studied and unconvincing. Even the narrator’s soul-searching, which often takes the form of extended and rather labored meditations on Catholic rituals and symbols, seems contrived and forced. The author has a nice ear for dialogue, and there are moments when Frankka’s diffuse anger and loneliness come alive, but her insistence that Frankka—and by extension her fellow performers—are already suffering saints gives this work an annoyingly moralistic quality in which we learn a lesson about our common humanity.

An imaginative plot and some lively dialogue can’t overcome the forced eccentricity of the characters and their facile insights.

Pub Date: May 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-06-085428-6

Page Count: 240

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2006

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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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THE TATTOOIST OF AUSCHWITZ

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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THE SCREWTAPE LETTERS

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

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