Traditional, inoffensive—probably a holiday hit.

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THE HANDMAID AND THE CARPENTER

Just in time for Christmas, Berg (We Are All Welcome Here, April 2006, etc.) delivers a story about the Christ child, highlighting the romance between his young parents.

What to do with an iconic story known throughout the world? Berg does very little, keeping it safe and simple and with few deviations from the commonly accepted narrative, guaranteed to neither insult nor inspire. Sixteen-year-old Joseph meets 13-year-old Mary at a wedding (they are hiding, still children really, under a banquet table) and fall in love. They are betrothed, but will remain in their respective parents’ homes for a year, until their marriage is finalized with a wedding, and a wedding night. Mary, stubborn and inquisitive, is beginning to question her engagement to Joseph, who, despite his youth, is stern and proper, eager for Mary to adopt her submissive, wifely role. All is turned upside-down, though, when an angel visits Mary to tell her she is with child. Mary is sent off to stay with her cousin Elizabeth, while her mother delivers the miraculous news to Joseph, at home in Nazareth. What man would accept the story of a virgin pregnancy from his wife? Not Joseph. But rather than focus on Joseph’s natural reaction, Berg shows his doubts dispatched by an angelic visit of his own, whereupon he agrees to the planned marriage. They settle into a happy union as Mary prepares to give birth, when they unexpectedly must journey to Bethlehem. The story of their plight—Mary’s anger at Joseph for making her travel so close to the birth; her fear of being without a midwife; his desperation in a strange city where no one will house them for the night—is nicely told, bringing humanity to a scene that is often reduced to greeting-card familiarity. After the birth of Jesus, the family lives happily in Nazareth until Joseph meets an early end, in love with his wife, but still skeptical of the virgin birth. Berg makes conventional, contemporary choices—Mary is spunky; Joseph conflicted—but shies away from any keener analysis of faith or marriage or miracles.

Traditional, inoffensive—probably a holiday hit.

Pub Date: Nov. 14, 2006

ISBN: 1-4000-6538-0

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2006

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An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

THE AUTHENTICITY PROJECT

A group of strangers who live near each other in London become fast friends after writing their deepest secrets in a shared notebook.

Julian Jessop, a septuagenarian artist, is bone-crushingly lonely when he starts “The Authenticity Project”—as he titles a slim green notebook—and begins its first handwritten entry questioning how well people know each other in his tiny corner of London. After 15 years on his own mourning the loss of his beloved wife, he begins the project with the aim that whoever finds the little volume when he leaves it in a cafe will share their true self with their own entry and then pass the volume on to a stranger. The second person to share their inner selves in the notebook’s pages is Monica, 37, owner of a failing cafe and a former corporate lawyer who desperately wants to have a baby. From there the story unfolds, as the volume travels to Thailand and back to London, seemingly destined to fall only into the hands of people—an alcoholic drug addict, an Australian tourist, a social media influencer/new mother, etc.—who already live clustered together geographically. This is a glossy tale where difficulties and addictions appear and are overcome, where lies are told and then forgiven, where love is sought and found, and where truths, once spoken, can set you free. Secondary characters, including an interracial gay couple, appear with their own nuanced parts in the story. The message is strong, urging readers to get off their smartphones and social media and live in the real, authentic world—no chain stores or brands allowed here—making friends and forming a real-life community and support network. And is that really a bad thing?

An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7861-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 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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