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. 22, 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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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 16, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2018

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