Lovely and lyrical—a celebration of language and another virtuoso performance from a writer who does indeed deserve to be...

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  • National Book Critics Circle Winner

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Elegant, lapidary stories that beg Ann Patchett’s question in the introduction: “Why isn’t Edith Pearlman famous?”

Pearlman (Love Among the Greats, 2002, etc.) is a master of the form, without doubt, though, like V.S. Pritchett, with whom she shares several points in common, there is nothing at all flashy about her fictions. Her stories are lush, at least as compared to the aridities of all those Raymond Carver–inspired tales of the last quarter-century, and they range the world in search of reports about the human condition. Often Pearlman writes of misplaced and displaced people, whether Jewish refugees from World War II–era Europe or characters who aren’t comfortable inside their own skins; often her characters can barely communicate, mistrustful of and limited by language (“On the fourth Thursday in August the youngest grandchild at last deigned to speak the language she had long understood, and demanded, in grammatical English, to be taken with the other kids to a traveling carnival”); it’s not uncommon for one of Pearlman’s players to be reaching for a dictionary somewhere along the way. Pearlman’s characters, too, are often layered in symbolism without being mere ciphers, as with the protagonist of “The Noncombatant,” a note-perfect evocation of the moment Americans on the home front learn that the war in the Pacific has ended—which does not mean, not by any stretch, that the goddess Eris has left the earth (“He felt his dying staunched by her wrath, her passionate unsubmissiveness”). Most of these stories are earnest, often even grim, though Pearlman is not without a sense of humor that mostly manifests in giving taunting names (“the Sisters Scrabble and the geezer”) to some of her foils. But humor is not what these stories are about; instead, Pearlman favors the startling moral problem (what should we think of a travel writer who does not travel, but invents places?) and the poetic meditation on family history and the passage of time.

Lovely and lyrical—a celebration of language and another virtuoso performance from a writer who does indeed deserve to be better known.

Pub Date: Jan. 11, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-9823382-9-2

Page Count: 375

Publisher: Lookout Books

Review Posted Online: Nov. 22, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 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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