A vivid narrative of faith, but, by its very nature, limited in scope and appeal.




Israeli novelist Sabato (Aleppo Tales, 2004, etc.) portrays a simple man living an uneventful life of piety.

Ezra Siman Tov’s twilight years are explicated in chapters that combine small stories, parables and religious text with tedious lists of the day’s routines, most of which are devoted to religious practice. Ezra works in a laundry, but his life is devoted to God. He spends every spare moment at the synagogue or in private prayer, reciting psalms or studying ethical teachings. Although he honors his wife and children, this is a story of a man and his maker, not a man and his family. Ezra is praised by the good people of Jerusalem for his kindness, and indeed the stories he is famous for are all tales of the joy he derives from worship. The city’s Great Writer is his friend and comes to depend on him for narrative inspiration. Ezra’s brother-in-law, Dr. Tawil, a pompous scholar of medieval verse, is eventually humbled by Ezra’s wisdom. Yeshiva student Moishe Dovid, who is in the habit of chastising the uneducated Ezra, begins to see the worth of his genuine, undecorated piety. The pleasure Ezra enjoys from living in the sheltering faith of God is acknowledged by all, but will change as the city begins to chip away at the things he loves. When the laundry must close to make way for a broader street and a shopping center, Ezra feels that at last he will have enough time to study the Torah in depth. Then his beloved rabbi and mentor dies. Services are discontinued at his synagogue; classes are canceled at another to make way for more contemporary ideas. An office building is raised next to his apartment, blocking the sunlight to his once-flowering veranda. The old way of life, Ezra’s Jerusalem of tireless devotion, is being brushed aside by a more secular modernity.

A vivid narrative of faith, but, by its very nature, limited in scope and appeal.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2006

ISBN: 1-59264-140-7

Page Count: 200

Publisher: Toby Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2006

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An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.


A group of strangers who live near each other in London become fast friends after writing their deepest secrets in a shared notebook.

Julian Jessop, a septuagenarian artist, is bone-crushingly lonely when he starts “The Authenticity Project”—as he titles a slim green notebook—and begins its first handwritten entry questioning how well people know each other in his tiny corner of London. After 15 years on his own mourning the loss of his beloved wife, he begins the project with the aim that whoever finds the little volume when he leaves it in a cafe will share their true self with their own entry and then pass the volume on to a stranger. The second person to share their inner selves in the notebook’s pages is Monica, 37, owner of a failing cafe and a former corporate lawyer who desperately wants to have a baby. From there the story unfolds, as the volume travels to Thailand and back to London, seemingly destined to fall only into the hands of people—an alcoholic drug addict, an Australian tourist, a social media influencer/new mother, etc.—who already live clustered together geographically. This is a glossy tale where difficulties and addictions appear and are overcome, where lies are told and then forgiven, where love is sought and found, and where truths, once spoken, can set you free. Secondary characters, including an interracial gay couple, appear with their own nuanced parts in the story. The message is strong, urging readers to get off their smartphones and social media and live in the real, authentic world—no chain stores or brands allowed here—making friends and forming a real-life community and support network. And is that really a bad thing?

An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7861-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 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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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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