Drab and uninspiring.

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THE LAST DAY

Jesus Christ heads to New Hampshire to assist an Army sniper home from Iraq in this earnest, sentimental debut.

How earnest and sentimental? Look no further than the name of Landis’ hero: Warren Pease. This conflicted soul (he’s nicknamed War, in case the message isn’t clear) spent his tour of duty as a precision killer of “high-value targets.” The circumstances of War’s return home aren’t made explicit until the end, but between the title and his brand-new buddy, it’s not hard to tell what’s happened. Jesus meets War on the beach and accompanies him as he visits with friends and family. Among them are Bethie, War’s longtime girlfriend; their daughter Dodie; Ryan, who stole Bethie’s heart after War went overseas; and Bethie’s father, a high-school English teacher who was a key inspiration during War’s youth. No one questions the presence of Jesus, introduced as War’s new friend Ray; Landis makes him a mix of easygoing wingman, comic relief and proof of salvation. Ray miraculously cooks multiple omelets from one egg at Bethie’s house; easily banters with bartenders and cops; and offers a sage presence as War wrestles with his lost love and memories of his time in Iraq. The only thing slightly tempering the novel’s footprints-in-the-sand piety is Landis’ deep knowledge about snipers. He has the technical lingo down, and on occasion he artfully renders the moral negotiations that War has had with himself about being a killer. The closing chapters feature a surprising amount of grit and gore, and there’s enough gallows humor and tough talk to give War’s experience an air of authenticity. Ultimately, though, the book is an unapologetic act of proselytizing, complete with wince-inducing lines like, “When it comes to Heaven, we all want to be a High-Value Target.”

Drab and uninspiring.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2009

ISBN: 978-1-58642-165-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Steerforth

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2009

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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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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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