A psychological tale with a messy plot.

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THE MIND

A debut novel analyzes how the mind processes childhood trauma and examines its effects.

Sheila Leclaire is a successful black investment banker in spite of the hallucinatory voices she has heard since she was 6 years old. Intrusive and menacing—“You ain’t worth anything! Die!” —they leave her feeling “stalked and fearful.” One night, in a futile effort to block them out, she seeks refuge in drinking and is hospitalized for a blackout. The doctors release her with a recommendation of outpatient therapy to uncover the source of the voices. Feeling vulnerable and alone, she temporarily moves in with Jonathan, her best friend from work, who lends moral support. Sheila also has an upcoming reunion with old friends to look forward to in a couple months. Seeking answers to fill in the gaps from a childhood she can’t remember, she reaches out to her friend Valencia, who reveals a long-held secret. At age 4, Sheila wandered away from her friends and was randomly beaten unconscious by a group of local boys. Her family and friends hid this from her in an effort to protect her from lasting trauma and harm. But it’s possible that this secret may have given birth to the voices. Sheila hopes to achieve healing through therapy in time to enjoy the reunion and perhaps for her friendship with Jonathan to evolve into something more. In her energetic series opener, Foster certainly delivers an intriguing premise and addresses timely and important issues. According to the publisher’s website, she envisions Sheila’s journey as one in which the protagonist “learns to renew her mind daily if she is to reach her destiny.” But Sheila’s odyssey becomes confusing and cluttered by various story threads; a subplot about her friend Allie’s being raised by her grandmother is needlessly inserted. In addition, this short novel is sometimes padded: “I reached for my handbag. I opened the car door.” And a final time jump robs readers of any type of resolution.

A psychological tale with a messy plot.

Pub Date: Oct. 10, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-62999-225-9

Page Count: 64

Publisher: Creation House

Review Posted Online: Nov. 17, 2018

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Though gripping, even moving at times, the novel doesn’t do justice to the solemn history from which it is drawn.

CILKA'S JOURNEY

In this follow-up to the widely read The Tattooist of Auschwitz (2018), a young concentration camp survivor is sentenced to 15 years’ hard labor in a Russian gulag.

The novel begins with the liberation of Auschwitz by Soviet troops in 1945. In the camp, 16-year-old Cecilia "Cilka" Klein—one of the Jewish prisoners introduced in Tattooist—was forced to become the mistress of two Nazi commandants. The Russians accuse her of collaborating—they also think she might be a spy—and send her to the Vorkuta Gulag in Siberia. There, another nightmarish scenario unfolds: Cilka, now 18, and the other women in her hut are routinely raped at night by criminal-class prisoners with special “privileges”; by day, the near-starving women haul coal from the local mines in frigid weather. The narrative is intercut with Cilka’s grim memories of Auschwitz as well as her happier recollections of life with her parents and sister before the war. At Vorkuta, her lot improves when she starts work as a nurse trainee at the camp hospital under the supervision of a sympathetic woman doctor who tries to protect her. Cilka also begins to feel the stirrings of romantic love for Alexandr, a fellow prisoner. Though believing she is cursed, Cilka shows great courage and fortitude throughout: Indeed, her ability to endure trauma—as well her heroism in ministering to the sick and wounded—almost defies credulity. The novel is ostensibly based on a true story, but a central element in the book—Cilka’s sexual relationship with the SS officers—has been challenged by the Auschwitz Memorial Research Center and by the real Cilka’s stepson, who says it is false. As in Tattooist, the writing itself is workmanlike at best and often overwrought.

Though gripping, even moving at times, the novel doesn’t do justice to the solemn history from which it is drawn.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-26570-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 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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