An eloquent record of suffering—and perhaps of redemption as well.



Pensive portrait of a man struggling to find a place in the world after enduring transformative calamity.

“To write poetry after Auschwitz,” wrote the German literary critic Theodore Adorno, “is barbaric.” But what of those who lived through Auschwitz? Just to live, to say nothing of writing, is problematic. So thinks the protagonist of survivor Adler’s novel, the last in a trilogy, the preceding two volumes of which were published out of order a half-century ago. There is the sheer guilt of being alive when so many died, and then there are the memories, the past that “hisses in my ears, causes horrible and sometimes also multiple sensations, pressing into me, lifting me, holding ready a thousand horrors….” Arthur Landau has lived. At the beginning of the 1960s, he's living in London, beginning to trust his neighbors a little, even though he and his family are the definitive strangers: “[T]he few people who know something about us are no less than an hour away.” The welcome trade-off, Landau says, is that no one bothers him, though the thought is always with him that he could just as easily disappear from the street with no one noticing or caring, as before. Landau’s world is one of memories that sometimes become very real—if only in his mind, though it’s not always easy for him or for readers to distinguish the real from the imagined, as with his Dostoyevski-an encounter with an “Assessor of Sympathies.” Landau’s disconnection is more affecting, and more open to the reader’s sympathy, than that of the protagonist of Elias Canetti’s Auto-da-Fé, which has a similarly strident quality; Adler’s novel has a Kafkaesque dimension as well, save that Landau has at least the saving grace of an understanding wife who does what she can to make him feel safe, or at least safer, in the world: “She was happy to see,” Landau tells us, “that I had achieved a partial and tolerable sense of resignation.” 

An eloquent record of suffering—and perhaps of redemption as well.

Pub Date: Dec. 2, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9306-6

Page Count: 672

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Oct. 23, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2014

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


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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