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


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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