Playful, teasing, provocative fare from this most accomplished of ironists.

DICTATION

A QUARTET

Deceptions and obsessions drive this elegant collection of four stories, three of which have been published in magazines.

The fitful friendship of Henry James and Joseph Conrad is the context for the title story, previously unpublished. Their hands cramping, James and Conrad have been forced to dictate their work to stenographers. The stenographers, Theodora Bosanquet (employed by James) and Lilian Hallowes (employed by Conrad), meet by chance at a London club one day in 1910. Theodora, the aggressive one, suggests tea before introducing a bold scheme. Uncommonly well plumped out, the story is a literary jape with a revenge element. Revenge also figures in the contemporary “Actors.” Matt Sorley is an elderly New York actor portraying a latter-day Lear in a play. Over the course of the story, he is humiliatingly upstaged by an obsessed figure. “At Fumicaro” is a complete change of pace. Another New Yorker, 35-year-old Frank Castle, bachelor, well-known critic and ardent Catholic, travels to Mussolini’s Italy for a conference near Lake Como, and on his fourth day marries a chambermaid. We learn of the marriage upfront; Ozick (Heir to the Glimmering World, 2004, etc.) uses her storyteller’s magic to keep us guessing how this “inflamed” bachelor will manage his passion. The last story, “What Happened to the Baby?,” is the best, an intricately plotted portrait of a Depression-era married couple in the Bronx who are engaged in a bitter marital struggle.

Playful, teasing, provocative fare from this most accomplished of ironists.

Pub Date: April 16, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-547-05400-1

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2008

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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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This book sings with the terrible silence of dead civilizations in which once there was valor.

THINGS FALL APART

Written with quiet dignity that builds to a climax of tragic force, this book about the dissolution of an African tribe, its traditions, and values, represents a welcome departure from the familiar "Me, white brother" genre.

Written by a Nigerian African trained in missionary schools, this novel tells quietly the story of a brave man, Okonkwo, whose life has absolute validity in terms of his culture, and who exercises his prerogative as a warrior, father, and husband with unflinching single mindedness. But into the complex Nigerian village filters the teachings of strangers, teachings so alien to the tribe, that resistance is impossible. One must distinguish a force to be able to oppose it, and to most, the talk of Christian salvation is no more than the babbling of incoherent children. Still, with his guns and persistence, the white man, amoeba-like, gradually absorbs the native culture and in despair, Okonkwo, unable to withstand the corrosion of what he, alone, understands to be the life force of his people, hangs himself. In the formlessness of the dying culture, it is the missionary who takes note of the event, reminding himself to give Okonkwo's gesture a line or two in his work, The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger.

This book sings with the terrible silence of dead civilizations in which once there was valor.

Pub Date: Jan. 23, 1958

ISBN: 0385474547

Page Count: 207

Publisher: McDowell, Obolensky

Review Posted Online: April 23, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1958

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