THE STORY OF B

Loose sequel to Quinn's debut novel, Ishmael (1992), the odd and controversial winner of the $500,000 Turner Tomorrow Award. In Ishmael, a young neophyte more or less accidentally apprenticed himself to a great talking ape, allowing Quinn to string together a series of Socratic dialogues on mankind's woes. Here, the device is much the same. We meet a young Laurentian priest, Jared Osbourne, who notes early on that the Laurentians still observe an old injunction: to watch for the appearance of the Antichrist. Jared is sent by his superior to investigate an itinerant European preacher known as B, a.k.a. Charles Atterley. Atterley isn't satanic in the least, however, nor even very religious, so the ``Antichrist'' tag is just a platform for Quinn to do his own preaching, which is reminiscent of the ape's declamations in Ishmael. When B is assassinated for his views, it makes little sense in terms of the plot, since all B does is talk (and talk)—he doesn't cast spells or plot world dominion. He talks about how primitive cultures were divided up into ``Leavers'' and ``Takers,'' how these ancient archetypes are still working themselves out, and how overpopulation will, in the next century, come near to obliterating us all. Modern agriculture, which Quinn thinks of as ``totalitarian'' because it's so divorced from nature, will not address the needs of 12 billion people (the UN estimate of how many of us there will be by 2040). The novel's format is artificial and far-fetched, but no matter: The author writes a facile, clear prose, and the ideas he wants to discuss are admittedly important. Quinn is a provocative thinker. Imagine a combination of Robert M. Pirsig for style, Ayn Rand for cardboard characters on soapboxes, and the Unabomber for a nature-centered but slightly menacing feel. The combination equals Quinn, and makes for a helluva rant.

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-553-10053-X

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Bantam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1996

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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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