An entrancing literary effort drawn from authentic characters and settings.


Memories' ghosts haunt this intriguing novel, the third from Schmahmann (Nibble & Kuhn, 2009, etc.).

Helga Divin is dying, and her two children have rallied to her side at her London home. Danny is a wealthy investment banker who lives near Boston. Bridget also lives in America with her daughter, Leora, and her husband, Tibor, a Bulgarian refuge. The Divins are natives of Durban, South Africa, although both youngsters were forced to flee penniless during apartheid. Soon after, widowed Helga, a liberal university professor, married Arnold Miro, a wealthy businessman, and moved to London. It does not help family dynamics that Miro is a boor, a greedy poseur who has isolated the normally strong-willed Helga. Miro also is attempting to misappropriate a collection of Zulu historical objects gathered by Silas Divin, Helga's first husband, Danny and Bridget's father. Among the artifacts are two elephant tusks given to one of the first settlers of the region, Nathaniel Isaacs, a Jew. As the Divins are Jewish, the tusks reign symbolically over the novel, as does Gordonwood, the hilltop estate Silas purchased. Also important to the narrative are Baptie, a servant at Gordonwood who feels a maternal connection to Danny and Bridget, and her son Eben, whose appearance is emblematic of the nation shaping itself out of apartheid's ashesTold in four parts, with Danny's point of view in the first, the story moves to Eben and new Africa in the second; and Morton Nerpelow, the family's Durban attorney, in the third. Characters come together in the fourth. Danny's human frailties inspire empathy, as do Bridget's, but the imperturbable and constantly supportive Tibor is sketched admirably, and Miro as nemesis is unambiguous. Point of view sometimes slips, especially when Danny relates the tale. Chapters are very short, some less than a page, but one offers an interesting precis of the first contact between whites and the Zulu nation.

An entrancing literary effort drawn from authentic characters and settings.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-89733-612-3

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Academy Chicago

Review Posted Online: April 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2011

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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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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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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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