An intelligent homage short on effective narrative impetus.

THE SECRET PURPOSES

First novel from a popular English TV personality: a tale committed to uncovering an overlooked corner of WWII history: the treatment of Jewish refugees by the British.

Concerned to pay tribute to the experience of those who survived, as well as expose the dominant U.K. attitude to the suffering of the Jews, Baddiel (Time for Bed, 1996, etc.) does his best work in re-creating the atmosphere of the early war years in England. Isaac Fabian, his wife Lulu and daughter Rebekka find themselves in Cambridge in 1940, having managed to escape Hitler’s Germany. Isaac, the son of a rabbi, is an avowed communist who broke away from his family to marry an Aryan. That marriage is now tested by the privations of life as enemy aliens, forbidden to own maps or radios or to travel, and offered only menial work. As Britain’s war effort falters, the decision is made to remove the majority of German refugees to an internment camp on the Isle of Man. Isaac is sent, but not Lulu. Baddiel provides perspective on the establishment attitude—its innate anti-Semitism and belief that the Jews “brought a certain amount of their woe upon themselves”—via the character of June Murray, a translator working for Special Operations, who suspects the atrocities in Germany are far worse than commonly understood. June decides to visit the camp and interview its inmates, including Isaac, with whom she has a brief affair. Isaac’s guilt, after sleeping with June and involving himself in a failed attempt by a group of Jews to murder a Nazi in their midst, leads him to volunteer to be shipped to the colonies. The ship is sunk by a U-boat, but we learn, in an awkward final section at Auschwitz in 2000, that Isaac survived and returned, altered, to Lulu. His testimony to June, giving her exactly the details of imminent genocide she sought, was a lie, woven from other people’s experiences—but proved to be horribly prescient.

An intelligent homage short on effective narrative impetus.

Pub Date: July 1, 2005

ISBN: 0-06-076582-8

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2005

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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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ONE DAY IN THE LIFE OF IVAN DENISOVICH

While a few weeks ago it seemed as if Praeger would have a two month lead over Dutton in their presentation of this Soviet best seller, both the "authorized" edition (Dutton's) and the "unauthorized" (Praeger's) will appear almost simultaneously. There has been considerable advance attention on what appears to be as much of a publishing cause celebre here as the original appearance of the book in Russia. Without entering into the scrimmage, or dismissing it as a plague on both your houses, we will limit ourselves to a few facts. Royalties from the "unauthorized" edition will go to the International Rescue Committee; Dutton with their contracted edition is adhering to copyright conventions. The Praeger edition has two translators and one of them is the translator of Doctor Zhivago Dutton's translator, Ralph Parker, has been stigmatized by Praeger as "an apologist for the Soviet regime". To the untutored eye, the Dutton translation seems a little more literary, the Praeger perhaps closer to the rather primitive style of the original. The book itself is an account of one day in the three thousand six hundred and fifty three days of the sentence to be served by a carpenter, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. (Solzhenitsyn was a political prisoner.) From the unrelenting cold without, to the conditions within, from the bathhouse to the latrine to the cells where survival for more than two weeks is impossible, this records the hopeless facts of existence as faced by thousands who went on "living like this, with your eyes on the ground". The Dutton edition has an excellent introduction providing an orientation on the political background to its appearance in Russia by Marvin Kalb. All involved in its publication (translators, introducers, etc.) claim for it great "artistic" values which we cannot share, although there is no question of its importance as a political and human document and as significant and tangible evidence of the de-Stalinization program.

Pub Date: June 15, 1963

ISBN: 0451228146

Page Count: 181

Publisher: Praeger

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1963

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