A rigorously researched and lucidly presented account of a philosopher’s extraordinary journey.

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FROM MOSES TO MOSES

A historical novel that chronicles the trials and triumphs of the great Jewish philosopher Moses Maimonides.

Moses ben Maimon, more widely known historically as Moses Maimonides, grows up in Córdoba during Spain’s “golden age,” during which not only prosperity reigns, but also religious tolerance, which permits adherents of the three Abrahamic faiths to live and worship side by side. Still, Jews are considered “dhimmis”—second-class citizens, below Muslims. But after the generally lenient Almoravid rulers are replaced by draconian Almohads, Maimonides and his family face a stark choice: flee, convert, or die. In his debut novel, Taylor (Medicine/Univ. Coll. London) details Maimonides’ lifelong search for a safe environment—one that’s stable enough for him to pursue his monumentally significant intellectual ambitions. Maimonides’ family finally flees Córdoba, and then Spain entirely, and after aborted attempts to settle in Morocco and Palestine, they finally find a home in Egypt. While in Morocco, Maimonides nominally converts to Islam but continues to secretly worship as a Jew—a criminal apostasy that’s punishable by death. The author deftly charts Maimonides’ intellectual development, particularly his attempt to reconcile supernatural elements of the Jewish faith with natural science: “He remained convinced of the importance of the scientific method, of the need for independent observation, and of the requirement to be rational in delivering treatment.” Taylor’s command of the details of Maimonides’ life, as well as the cultural and political features of the historical period, is simply magisterial. His account of his subject’s valiant attempt to preserve the Jewish culture and its ancient repository of biblical teachings is as engaging as it is moving. The prose is unfailingly clear throughout, but it’s more academic than literary in tone, and it reads more like scholarly history than literary fiction. Nevertheless, the author shows Maimonides’ life to be both dramatically thrilling and philosophically important.

A rigorously researched and lucidly presented account of a philosopher’s extraordinary journey.

Pub Date: March 22, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5462-9755-0

Page Count: 352

Publisher: AuthorHouseUK

Review Posted Online: Aug. 2, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2019

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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.

CILKA'S JOURNEY

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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If nothing else, you have to giggle over how this novel’s namesake, who held vicious white supremacist opinions, must be...

LOVECRAFT COUNTRY

Some very nice, very smart African-Americans are plunged into netherworlds of malevolent sorcery in the waning days of Jim Crow—as if Jim Crow alone wasn’t enough of a curse to begin with.

In the northern U.S. of the mid-1950s, as depicted in this merrily macabre pastiche by Ruff (The Mirage, 2012, etc.), Driving While Black is an even more perilous proposition than it is now. Ask Atticus Turner, an African-American Korean War veteran and science-fiction buff, who is compelled to face an all-too-customary gauntlet of racist highway patrolmen and hostile white roadside hamlets en route from his South Side Chicago home to a remote Massachusetts village in search of his curmudgeonly father, Montrose, who was lured away by a young white “sharp dresser” driving a silver Cadillac with tinted windows. At least Atticus isn’t alone; his uncle George, who puts out annual editions of The Safe Negro Travel Guide, is splitting driving duties in his Packard station wagon “with inlaid birch trim and side paneling.” Also along for the ride is Atticus’ childhood friend Letitia Dandridge, another sci-fi fan, whose family lived in the same neighborhood as the Turners. It turns out this road trip is merely the beginning of a series of bizarre chimerical adventures ensnaring both the Turner and Dandridge clans in ancient rituals, arcane magical texts, alternate universes, and transmogrifying potions, all of which bears some resemblance to the supernatural visions of H.P. Lovecraft and other gothic dream makers of the past. Ruff’s ripping yarns often pile on contrivances and overextend the narratives in the grand manner of pulp storytelling, but the reinvented mythos here seems to have aroused in him a newfound empathy and engagement with his characters.

If nothing else, you have to giggle over how this novel’s namesake, who held vicious white supremacist opinions, must be doing triple axels in his grave at the way his imagination has been so impudently shaken and stirred.

Pub Date: Feb. 16, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-06-229206-3

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2015

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