Philosophical, provocative and nervy—an interior novel that manages to encompass a breadth of issues.


An Israeli leader confronts the man who sold him out to the KGB decades earlier in a striking exploration of memory, patriotism, faith and duplicity from Bezmozgis (The Free World, 2011, etc.).

As the novel opens, Baruch Kotler, a 60-something Russian-born Israeli politician, arrives in Yalta as damaged goods. His support of a Jewish settlement on disputed land has outraged the prime minister, one of whose lackeys attempts to blackmail him with photos of his young mistress. Refusing to back down, he pursues some peace and quiet with said mistress, Leora, in the run-down Crimean resort city he fondly recalls from childhood. (The novel is set in August, 2013, and none of the current political turmoil factors into the story.) The home the couple rents, however, is owned by Chaim Tankilevich, who years earlier reported the dissident Baruch to the authorities, leading to a 13-year gulag sentence. If the coincidence seems impossibly unrealistic, the conversations between the two men, and the depth of thought and feeling Bezmozgis brings to them, redeem any such concerns. Chaim has lived on the edge of poverty ever since his betrayal, while Baruch has come away from his ordeal a political celebrity hardly wounded by his affair with Leora. Who deserves esteem or contempt here? Who merits punishment? The debate between the two men is a nakedly allegorical one, connected to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute that lays a scrim over the entire narrative. (Baruch’s son is an Israeli soldier with orders to help clear the settlement.) Taking place over the course of one day, the novel offers no pat resolutions to entrenched arguments. But it gains a satisfying tension from its compression, of two men forced to settle accounts in some way about their past in a culture thick with long memories.

Philosophical, provocative and nervy—an interior novel that manages to encompass a breadth of issues.

Pub Date: Sept. 23, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-316-28433-2

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: June 19, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2014

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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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A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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