A complex but rewarding epic of family ties, fading memories, and immigrants who—through hard work and luck—better the lives...

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ODESSA, ODESSA

A debut novel spins the multigenerational saga of one family’s journey from a shtetl in the Eastern European pale to the streets of 20th-century New York.

Rebbe Mendel Kolopsky and his wife, Henya, work hard and fear God, but their life is a hard one. As the tale opens, Henya discovers she’s pregnant at a relatively advanced age. Months later, she fears for the lives of her new daughter, Marya, born deaf, and her six other children. The family’s troubles escalate rapidly when another pogrom sweeps through Odessa—hordes of Cossacks murder and rape many of Mendel and Henya’s neighbors (Artson effectively describes “the screams of women, the menace of barking dogs”). Mendel is beaten within an inch of his life. As the family finally resolves to brave the journey to America, and to attempt a new life in a strange land, readers also learn the story of Mendel’s brother Shimshon (later, in the U.S., Samson). Disowned by his father, Shimshon is a revolutionary who asks Mendel: “Where was your God each time the Cossacks came to call?” Years later, Mendel’s granddaughter discovers Samson’s journal, and readers are given an even fuller picture of a single family’s captivating multigenerational tale, from Odessa to Brighton Beach (“A nice place to live, enough food, no Cossacks knocking down the door”) to a family reunion in Tel Aviv, where Henya’s daughter learns the extent of another people’s oppression. Century-spanning books are notorious for perplexing readers; Artson has taken wise steps to forestall such confusion with a long list of character names and identities preceding the text and an informative addendum. Even so, keeping track of who’s thinking what can be tricky when the point of view shifts from one paragraph to the next. That said, the vivid events and rich details of the intricate story are compelling and important—immigrants like the Kolopskys helped make America into the land readers recognize today (Israel, too). Readers should understand more of their world at the end of this engrossing novel than they did when they began it.

A complex but rewarding epic of family ties, fading memories, and immigrants who—through hard work and luck—better the lives of their progeny.

Pub Date: Sept. 11, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-63152-443-1

Page Count: 341

Publisher: She Writes Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 8, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2018

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A unique story about Appalachia and the healing power of the written word.

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THE BOOK WOMAN OF TROUBLESOME CREEK

One of Kentucky’s last living “Blue People” works as a traveling librarian in 1930s Appalachia.

Cussy Mary Carter is a 19-year-old from Troublesome Creek, Kentucky. She was born with a rare genetic condition, and her skin has always been tinged an allover deep blue. Cussy lives with her widowed father, a coal miner who relentlessly attempts to marry her off. Unfortunately, with blue skin and questionable genetics, Cussy is a tough sell. Cussy would rather keep her job as a pack-horse librarian than keep house for a husband anyway. As part of the new governmental program aimed at bringing reading material to isolated rural Kentuckians, Cussy rides a mule over treacherous terrain, delivering books and periodicals to people of limited means. Cussy’s patrons refer to her as “Bluet” or “Book Woman,” and she delights in bringing them books as well as messages, medicine, and advice. When a local pastor takes a nefarious interest in Cussy, claiming that God has sent him to rid society of her “blue demons,” efforts to defend herself leave Cussy at risk of arrest, or worse. The local doctor agrees to protect Cussy in exchange for her submission to medical testing. As Doc finds answers about Cussy’s condition, she begins to re-examine what it means to be a Blue and what life after a cure might look like. Although the novel gets off to a slow start, once Cussy begins traveling to the city for medical testing, the stakes get higher, as does the suspense of the story. Cussy's first-person narrative voice is engaging, laced with a thick Kentucky accent and colloquialisms of Depression-era Appalachia. Through the bigotry and discrimination Cussy suffers as a result of her skin color, the author artfully depicts the insidious behavior that can result when a society’s members feel threatened by things they don't understand. With a focus on the personal joy and broadened horizons that can result from access to reading material, this well-researched tale serves as a solid history lesson on 1930s Kentucky.

A unique story about Appalachia and the healing power of the written word.

Pub Date: May 7, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4926-7152-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark

Review Posted Online: Feb. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2019

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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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