Ambitious and intelligent, but more a collection of fascinating essays than a fulfilling piece of fiction.

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OUR LADY OF THE LOST AND FOUND

A NOVEL OF MARY, FAITH, AND FRIENDSHIP

What would you do if the Virgin Mary came to visit for a week? Taking off from this entertaining premise, the author of In the Language of Love (1996) falls short, though not for want of trying.

The narrator, a fussy but endearing writer in her 40s who lives in some northern suburb, seems an unlikely candidate for divine visitation. But Mary, weary from constant miracle-making, nonetheless takes up temporary residence in her guest bedroom. Despite the casual slacks, brown cardigan, and sneakers, there is no doubt this is indeed the Mother of God. And although Mary requests complete secrecy, she realizes the writer will be too tempted (so to speak) by the material at hand and agrees to allow a book to be written about her so long as it's called a “novel.” Presumably, this is the result: a document of quiet mornings spent over coffee and the paper, trips to the mall, and other quotidian events. Anecdotes about Mary's previous earthly visitations and stories about saints and martyrs both familiar and obscure comprise much of the text; they illustrate the strength of belief and narrate the course of history from a Marian perspective. Schoemperlen also makes random forays into the narrator's memory, more often than not including discussions of Pythagorean theory, the nature of truth, the melding of history and fiction, and Heisenberg's uncertainty principle. Though these tidbits and occasionally endless lists speak to the narrator's larger examination of the nature of fact and faith, they ultimately prove frustrating. The Virgin Mary is sitting right there in the kitchen! Yet Schoemperlen dangles her in front of the reader for 300 pages without ever allowing Mary much to say for herself. The supposed core of the story, meeting the Mother of God, isn't strong enough to balance the tangents.

Ambitious and intelligent, but more a collection of fascinating essays than a fulfilling piece of fiction.

Pub Date: May 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-670-89977-1

Page Count: 350

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2001

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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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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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