In all, a thoughtful and affecting addition to the literature of the Diaspora.

ALEPPO TALES

Three novella-length tales chronicle a devout family whose experiences parallel recent Jewish history.

In stories that are as much religious mediation (with generous quotations from the Torah, Talmud, and other holy writings) as they are accounts of a particular place—here Aleppo, Syria—the author vividly intertwines the ties of faith and family. Aleppo, long home to a thriving Jewish community, was ruled by the French between the two world wars, and the first two stories are set there during the French occupation. The third has an Israeli setting, as the family emigrates from what is now Arab-ruled Syria to Jerusalem. In “Truth Shall Spring from the Earth,” a young Yeshiva scholar learns that his great-great grandfather, once regarded as one of the foremost sages of Aleppo, was banned from teaching and that his baby daughter died soon after. Determined to learn what happened, and why the child died so suddenly, the young man consults old manuscripts and finally discovers the truth. In “The Wheel Turns Full Circle,” Raphael, a brilliant Aleppo student whose father had studied in France before WWII, also goes to Paris to study. His pious family expects him to become a rabbi, but, in Paris, he becomes involved in radical politics and disavows his religious heritage. This direction changes when a planned revolt against the French government fails and Raphael has time to think about his faith, his past, and Israel. The third story is a poignant tale, told by the grandson of an aging and distinguished rabbi who emigrates from Aleppo to Jerusalem but there lacks a congregation of his own. When a Hasidic rabbi dies suddenly on the eve of the Sabbath, the rabbi is asked to deliver the eulogy at the funeral. Preaching, he feels he is back in Aleppo with his old congregation, though the listeners find his accent strange and his sermon too long.

In all, a thoughtful and affecting addition to the literature of the Diaspora.

Pub Date: May 1, 2004

ISBN: 1-59264-051-6

Page Count: 280

Publisher: Toby Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2004

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A compulsively readable account of a little-known yet extraordinary historical figure—Lawhon’s best book to date.

CODE NAME HÉLÈNE

A historical novel explores the intersection of love and war in the life of Australian-born World War II heroine Nancy Grace Augusta Wake.

Lawhon’s (I Was Anastasia, 2018, etc.) carefully researched, lively historical novels tend to be founded on a strategic chronological gambit, whether it’s the suspenseful countdown to the landing of the Hindenberg or the tale of a Romanov princess told backward and forward at once. In her fourth novel, she splits the story of the amazing Nancy Wake, woman of many aliases, into two interwoven strands, both told in first-person present. One begins on Feb. 29th, 1944, when Wake, code-named Hélène by the British Special Operations Executive, parachutes into Vichy-controlled France to aid the troops of the Resistance, working with comrades “Hubert” and “Denden”—two of many vividly drawn supporting characters. “I wake just before dawn with a full bladder and the uncomfortable realization that I am surrounded on all sides by two hundred sex-starved Frenchmen,” she says. The second strand starts eight years earlier in Paris, where Wake is launching a career as a freelance journalist, covering early stories of the Nazi rise and learning to drink with the hardcore journos, her purse-pooch Picon in her lap. Though she claims the dog “will be the great love of [her] life,” she is about to meet the hunky Marseille-based industrialist Henri Fiocca, whose dashing courtship involves French 75 cocktails, unexpected appearances, and a drawn-out seduction. As always when going into battle, even the ones with guns and grenades, Nancy says “I wear my favorite armor…red lipstick.” Both strands offer plenty of fireworks and heroism as they converge to explain all. The author begs forgiveness in an informative afterword for all the drinking and swearing. Hey! No apologies necessary!

A compulsively readable account of a little-known yet extraordinary historical figure—Lawhon’s best book to date.

Pub Date: March 31, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-385-54468-9

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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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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