A futuristic novel with insufficient worldbuilding.

END OF THE AGE: THE HISTORIAN

A man who lives in a future peaceful world ruled by a religious government finds himself questioning his circumstances in Sims's second book of a planned trilogy.

Paul Watanabe lives in a post-Armageddon world that has been without war for hundreds of years. A Jerusalem-based, Big Brother-esque government headed by Christ-figure Lord Emmanuel rules the planet. People live to be hundreds of years old, famine is unknown and there are rules for everything, from how to get married to how to choose a career. Everything’s fine as long as one follows the rules, but Watanabe is vaguely unhappy. Middle portions of trilogies often wind up as placeholders, setting up events for the final installment while not providing much in the way of significance, and this is the fate here. The novel, which is essentially one of conversations, sees little action. Characters have long discussions with each other, but unfortunately these heart-to-hearts don’t generally advance the plot. Chapters begin and end with insignificant actions, providing little incentive to read further. While the future world is unusual—none of that typical scene of humans fighting machines on a blasted landscape here—there’s not enough description of it. Occasionally, the author opens the curtain to reveal a bit of the realm, and the book comes to life, such as when an archeological find prompts the characters to discuss the rationale behind a store being called Best Buy. But then the curtains shut again, and yet more conversations ensue, ending any momentum gained. Author Sims nimbly moves around his large cast of characters, but the reader never gets to understand the motivation for any except Watanabe.

A futuristic novel with insufficient worldbuilding.

Pub Date: Oct. 18, 2012

ISBN: 978-1478314646

Page Count: 344

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Jan. 16, 2013

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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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A unique if occasionally overreaching novel for lovers of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.

FLORENCE ADLER SWIMS FOREVER

In a darkly comic debut, Beanland tells the story of a Jewish family on the New Jersey coast in 1934.

It begins with tragedy: Florence Adler, while working toward her ambitious goal of becoming the first Jewish woman to swim the English Channel, drowns off the coast of Atlantic City. Shifting ambitiously among seven different third-person perspectives, the novel explores the aftermath of the tragedy as experienced by three generations of the Adler family and those adjacent to it. Florence’s older sister, Fannie, is on bed rest as she prepares to give birth to her third child a year after having lost her second. The Adler family matriarch, Esther, decides it would be best to keep the tragedy from Fannie in order to minimize her risk of losing the baby. As the family fights against all odds to keep this huge secret, other issues are brought to light, from jealousy to hidden romances to shady business dealings. Remarkably, the plot feels coherent despite the seven points of view, but the novel falters thematically; it could have been a sensitive exploration of the sometimes-absurd lengths we'll go to protect the people we love, but it turns into a diffuse attempt to do too much. The novel's events take place in the shadow of the approaching Holocaust, but the author fails to engage meaningfully with it and so it reads like an afterthought. Perhaps Beanland thought writing a story about Jews set in the 1930s that doesn't deal with that tragedy would be frivolous or insensitive, but the result of her half-baked approach is an “add-Holocaust-and-stir” effect that lacks emotional verisimilitude. In addition, some of the Jewish details in the novel are historically dubious if not incorrect. In this regard, it is reminiscent of the hit show The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel; also in this regard, the particularity of the setting may nonetheless be enough to buoy it, particularly for those interested in little-known pieces of American Jewish culture.

A unique if occasionally overreaching novel for lovers of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.

Pub Date: July 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-982132-46-0

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2020

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