In Ziebell’s (Gorky, Russia; First Man In, 2017, etc.) lighthearted novel, a skilled World War II waist gunner, when not in combat, spins tales of his family and youth. 

Boe Klein is 18 years old when the U.S. government drafts him into the Army in 1942. He leaves his Tennessee home for boot camp and, later, gunnery training camp. He’s an adept marksman, having honed his ability under the tutelage of his father. Boe soon begins regular combat missions aboard a B-24 bomber in “an unnamed country.” As a waist gunner who has to defend his plane against enemy fire, he quickly earns the respect of officers and fellow airmen alike. He also gets a nickname, Click-Click, derived from his response to a bomber captain’s gunner roll call. Click-Click is, moreover, a frequent storyteller, describing how he once witnessed an aunt and uncle’s rather unusual feud and recounting tales like that of his grandfather’s “planting” chickens to grow more of them when the older man was a boy. His adventures continue in the Army, even during downtime or a furlough. In one instance, his assisting 1st Lt. Jean M. Klin leads to a dinner invitation, to which Click-Click can only respond after learning what RSVP means. Ziebell, who’s previously written nonfiction, pens a surprisingly upbeat war story. While the combat missions are unmistakably dangerous, the narrative concentrates on humorous moments. For example, one soldier reacts to a traumatic near-death experience by speaking backward, which is apparently subconscious. Combat is likewise the only indication of violence, which the novel tones down with a faceless, nameless “enemy” that never explicitly dies. Ziebell’s straightforward prose prompts a number of genuinely funny scenes and a few suspenseful ones, too, as when Click-Click undergoes a top-secret mission. However, the protagonist’s potential romance with neighbor Cutie (whom readers hardly see) is underdeveloped. Wilding’s black-and-white artwork rounds out the book: simple, bold-lined renderings primarily of the story’s most amusing bits, such as an exploding can of spaghetti.

A blithe wartime comedy.

Pub Date: June 24, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-973665-66-3

Page Count: 154

Publisher: Westbow Press

Review Posted Online: Jan. 29, 2020

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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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