A meticulously reconstructed, moving saga of Jewish life in a terrible and hopeful century.

REMEMBER THIS DREAM

A Jewish clan battles hardship and upheaval in America and wartime Poland in this sprawling historical epic.

Like many Polish Jews in 1911, Anna Appelavitch can’t wait to leave the grinding poverty and anti-Semitism of the shtetl behind, so the decision to take her children and join her husband Yakov in America seems like a no-brainer. Alas, after a horrendous crossing in steerage–her only respite from the storm-tossed dank and vomit is a quickie with a handsome ship’s officer that bequeaths her a lifetime of secret fantasies–the grim factory city of Baltimore proves anything but a promised land. To make ends meet, Anna and her eldest daughters follow Yakov into the garment industry for long hours of backbreaking labor at meager wages, a plight they feistily resist by helping to organize a union. Decades of want and insecurity, drawn with a sharp realism by the author, ensue, poisoning Anna’s marriage to the bitter, withdrawn Yakov and threatening the family with dissolution. Still, bad as industrial America is, it isn’t Poland, where war, famine and persecution stalk Anna’s sister Dvoyra and her family. They persevere through a series of crises while debating Zionist politics and agonizing over whether to stay or go as the threat of Hitler’s Germany looms; staying too long, Dvoyra finds herself in a ghetto where she bears witness to Nazi arrogance and atrocities. At times the novel seems like a pageant: battles and elections pass by in the background, historical figures walk onstage for brief cameos and major characters die off abruptly or disappear in the tide of events. Fortunately, Gershowitz peoples the story with lively characters torn between the desire for a better life and the pull of family roots; their travails feel real even as they drift along in a flood of calamity.

A meticulously reconstructed, moving saga of Jewish life in a terrible and hopeful century.

Pub Date: Aug. 14, 2008

ISBN: 978-1-4392-0303-3

Page Count: -

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 23, 2010

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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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Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

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ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

Doerr presents us with two intricate stories, both of which take place during World War II; late in the novel, inevitably, they intersect.

In August 1944, Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a blind 16-year-old living in the walled port city of Saint-Malo in Brittany and hoping to escape the effects of Allied bombing. D-Day took place two months earlier, and Cherbourg, Caen and Rennes have already been liberated. She’s taken refuge in this city with her great-uncle Etienne, at first a fairly frightening figure to her. Marie-Laure’s father was a locksmith and craftsman who made scale models of cities that Marie-Laure studied so she could travel around on her own. He also crafted clever and intricate boxes, within which treasures could be hidden. Parallel to the story of Marie-Laure we meet Werner and Jutta Pfennig, a brother and sister, both orphans who have been raised in the Children’s House outside Essen, in Germany. Through flashbacks we learn that Werner had been a curious and bright child who developed an obsession with radio transmitters and receivers, both in their infancies during this period. Eventually, Werner goes to a select technical school and then, at 18, into the Wehrmacht, where his technical aptitudes are recognized and he’s put on a team trying to track down illegal radio transmissions. Etienne and Marie-Laure are responsible for some of these transmissions, but Werner is intrigued since what she’s broadcasting is innocent—she shares her passion for Jules Verne by reading aloud 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A further subplot involves Marie-Laure’s father’s having hidden a valuable diamond, one being tracked down by Reinhold von Rumpel, a relentless German sergeant-major.

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4658-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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