Ambitious in scope, at times poetic with strong imagery, this is a literary work that ultimately resonates with hope.



A complex coming-of-age story about an only child of Holocaust survivors whose keen sense of outsiderness and otherness is intensified by her struggle with coming out as a lesbian.

This debut novel is set largely in Montreal between 1959 and 1970. Goliger (Song of Ascent, 2003) creatively structures the narrative into five parts to correspond with important and often painful passages in Toni Goldblatt's life. "The Mountain" introduces Toni at eight years old, a tomboy who regards dresses as "a frilly prison," loves that "their street hugs the wild side of Mount Royal" and can't possibly live up to "be the miracle child her mother insists God delivered at Toni's birth." Conflicts abound. Her mother Lisa, originally from the Bohemian town of Karlsbad, sews alterations at Shmelzer's and fiercely wants a better, bigger life for her family. The author effectively weaves strands of residual Holocaust fears with Toni's own confusing secrets regarding her emerging sexuality. At 15, she's sent to Camp Tikvah, a Jewish camp in the Laurentians, where she feels like "loose debris," even more of an outcast than at school, and falls in love with the "sassy" (and straight) song instructor Janet. Swept up by the excitement of the Six Day War, Toni, now 18, embarks for Jerusalem; she returns to Montreal when her beloved book-rescuing father dies. The pace picks up when Toni discovers Loulou's, an under-the-radar lesbian bar where she continues to question "Who am I? Neither male nor female, neither fish nor fowl"—and moves even faster in part five when Toni does indeed become a "girl unwrapped," with all its complications and meanings. The personal is emphasized over the political, which is in fact dealt with somewhat superficially, but that is most likely the author's intent.

Ambitious in scope, at times poetic with strong imagery, this is a literary work that ultimately resonates with hope.

Pub Date: May 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-1-55152-375-0

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Arsenal Pulp Press

Review Posted Online: April 18, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 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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