Provocative and beautifully told—a breakout novel for Maine.

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THE BOOK OF SAMSON

Maine’s superb third novel continues his sly examination of the Old Testament, this time delineating the story of Samson and Dalila.

The Preservationist (2004) and Fallen (2005) stand as far more than jaunty, modern retellings (of Noah and the Ark and Adam and Eve, respectively), and this tale, too, offers a dark, thought-provoking account of the Bible’s great warrior and judge. As Samson begins his narrative, he is already imprisoned by the Philistines, blind and chained, his hair shorn and his strength gone. All he has left is his tale, and this he spreads out before the reader in all its bloody, bawdy glory. At Samson’s birth (foretold by an angel who issues the vital warning that he must never drink wine, touch a dead body or cut his hair), the newborn sits up between his mother’s legs and crushes a rock in his tiny fist. His size and strength are Herculean, and he has been sent by God to deliver his people from heathens. Samson, not the wisest of fellows, takes these words literally, killing Philistines and Canaanites, razing their crops and villages, wreaking murderous havoc whenever his God (though more often he himself) has been dishonored. The central episodes of the novel come directly from the Bible—he tears apart a lion with his bare hands (frightening his parents with his violence), kills 30 men at his wedding feast because of a riddle gone wrong, kills thousands with the jawbone of an ass in a slaughter that leaves him knee-deep in body parts. Then there’s sexy Dalila, a warrior of another kind, to whom Samson loses his power and heart. Maine contemporizes these mythic tales and questions the kind of zealot who delights in killing for God, the kind of man who denies humanity to his victims. Samson speaks of the strange buzzing he hears when he kills so righteously and the speed and strength given to him by God to murder. It is chilling indeed when the line between hero and serial killer is blurred.

Provocative and beautifully told—a breakout novel for Maine.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-312-35339-1

Page Count: 240

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2006

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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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Though gripping, even moving at times, the novel doesn’t do justice to the solemn history from which it is drawn.

CILKA'S JOURNEY

In this follow-up to the widely read The Tattooist of Auschwitz (2018), a young concentration camp survivor is sentenced to 15 years’ hard labor in a Russian gulag.

The novel begins with the liberation of Auschwitz by Soviet troops in 1945. In the camp, 16-year-old Cecilia "Cilka" Klein—one of the Jewish prisoners introduced in Tattooist—was forced to become the mistress of two Nazi commandants. The Russians accuse her of collaborating—they also think she might be a spy—and send her to the Vorkuta Gulag in Siberia. There, another nightmarish scenario unfolds: Cilka, now 18, and the other women in her hut are routinely raped at night by criminal-class prisoners with special “privileges”; by day, the near-starving women haul coal from the local mines in frigid weather. The narrative is intercut with Cilka’s grim memories of Auschwitz as well as her happier recollections of life with her parents and sister before the war. At Vorkuta, her lot improves when she starts work as a nurse trainee at the camp hospital under the supervision of a sympathetic woman doctor who tries to protect her. Cilka also begins to feel the stirrings of romantic love for Alexandr, a fellow prisoner. Though believing she is cursed, Cilka shows great courage and fortitude throughout: Indeed, her ability to endure trauma—as well her heroism in ministering to the sick and wounded—almost defies credulity. The novel is ostensibly based on a true story, but a central element in the book—Cilka’s sexual relationship with the SS officers—has been challenged by the Auschwitz Memorial Research Center and by the real Cilka’s stepson, who says it is false. As in Tattooist, the writing itself is workmanlike at best and often overwrought.

Though gripping, even moving at times, the novel doesn’t do justice to the solemn history from which it is drawn.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-26570-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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