Beautifully written, stringently unsentimental, and yet tender in its empathy for the perennial human conflict between...


Poliner’s follow-up to Mutual Life & Casualty (2005) limns a Jewish family too close-knit for its individual members’ good.

“The summer of 1948 my brother Davy was killed in an accident,” Molly tells us in her first sentence. Twelve years old at the time, she looks back from the vantage point of 1999 to consider the fraught family dynamic that contributed to the accident. The Syrkin sisters—Vivie, Bec, and Molly’s mother, Ada—summer every year with their families on “Bagel Beach,” one of the few portions of the Connecticut shore open to Jews. Their distrust of outsiders is understandable, with the Holocaust a recent memory, but as Molly’s narration delves into dramas from before and after Davy’s death, we see that the family’s collective needs too often take precedence over personal happiness—especially if it involves moving beyond their tight little community’s boundaries. Molly’s uncle Nelson lost the love of his life when he dutifully went to work in the family department store instead of pursuing the academic career he wanted. Her brother Howard, in love with an Irish Catholic girl, rejects her after Davy’s death, seeing it as punishment for being “self-indulgent.” Molly’s cousin Nina also takes away from the accident a deep sense of guilt and unworthiness to be loved that scars her life. Warm scenes of Shabbos dinners and summer leisure evoke the appeal of this sheltering world, but an ugly quarrel between Molly’s parents makes clear that it's governed by strict rules, and those who violate them will be punished. Selfish, fun-loving, ultimately devastated Ada is perhaps the most emotionally tangled family member, but Poliner depicts each character with sensitivity and insight. Molly’s coming-of-age is the delicate connective tissue that binds together the novel’s chronologically fragmented episodes, revealing them as pieces in a mosaic of enlarged understanding—the narrator’s and ours.

Beautifully written, stringently unsentimental, and yet tender in its empathy for the perennial human conflict between service and self.

Pub Date: March 15, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-316-38411-7

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Lee Boudreaux/Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Dec. 10, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2015

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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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A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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