Despite its rush to the end, this novel delivers poignant universal truths about familial love and conflict in a story that...



This Passover, Sylvia Gold has only one thing on her mind: how can she impress her youngest daughter Becca’s new beau and his family, an old-money banking dynasty that dates back to New York’s gilded age?

For many mothers it would have been enough to have three healthy, successful grown children, two of whom have followed in their father’s footsteps and pursued careers in medicine. It would have been enough to have an adoring husband who finds her social-climbing antics endearing. And it would have been enough to have a beautiful home in Greenwich, Connecticut, and want for nothing. But Sylvia has never been one to say dayenu, the traditional Passover prayer of gratitude and contentment. The neurotic matriarch works herself into a tizzy to win over potential in-laws Edmond and Ursella Rothchild and their boorish son, Henry. This does not sit well with daughter Sarah, whose blue-collar boyfriend, Joe, has always been treated like chopped liver. Novelist Janowitz (Lonely Hearts Club, 2015, etc.) adds to the family drama by setting places at the Seder table for wayward son Gideon and his surprise fiancee, Malika, who's African-American, and for Joe’s boisterous mother, Valentina, whose husband is up the river—and not the Nile. With an impeccable eye for detail, Janowitz skillfully creates scenarios and relationships so authentic that they're simultaneously hilarious and cringe-worthy. Equally compelling is the cast of emotionally complex, nuanced characters who are lovable even at their most exasperating. The only shortcoming with this dramedy is that it finishes too quickly, the conclusion reading more like a chapter ending than the wrap-up this tale deserves.

Despite its rush to the end, this novel delivers poignant universal truths about familial love and conflict in a story that will have readers eagerly turning every delicious page. Thoroughly kosher.

Pub Date: April 12, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-250-00787-2

Page Count: 256

Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin

Review Posted Online: Jan. 21, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2016

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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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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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