Though the wild, wounded rant of the opening story seems promising, by the time we get to the mental patient and the...

WE ARE GATHERED

Monologues in the voices of six guests, plus the mother of the bride, at a wedding in Atlanta.

"There is no justice in this world, and you can start with the simple fact that some people look like Elizabeth Gottlieb," announces Carla Leftkowitz at the opening of the first story in Weisman's fiction debut, set at Elizabeth's wedding among the Jewish elite. The beauty of her lifelong friend, whom she now serves as bridesmaid, is particularly enervating because Carla has a port-wine birthmark covering half her left cheek. Author Weisman's background as a dermatologist adds texture to Carla's furious ruminations on physical beauty, as she passes her time imagining her 17 sister bridesmaids with "double chins, saggy breasts, twenty unlosable pounds around the middle, disappointment creased into their foreheads," yet she also dreams of a time "when we evolve to see the beauty in the stroked-out and the misshapen, the one-eyed and the cleft-lipped, the swollen and the stained." In the next story we hear from a character even more bitter than Carla: Elizabeth's grandfather Albert, a powerful, repellent man now mute and confined to a wheelchair after a stroke. Next up...a close family friend, who's attending with her nasty husband and also-wheelchair-bound son, the latter having been Elizabeth's charge when she worked as a teenager at a summer camp for the disabled. There are just a few tendrils of backstory to tie the characters together and virtually no plot development in the present tense of the wedding, so these long forays into the unhappy characters' inner lives have to hold the reader's attention on their own.

Though the wild, wounded rant of the opening story seems promising, by the time we get to the mental patient and the Holocaust survivor who wander (separately) off into the woods, the reader, too, is ready to leave.

Pub Date: June 5, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-328-79329-4

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: March 20, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2018

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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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A not-very-illuminating updating of Chaucer’s Tales.

THE CANTERBURY TALES

A RETELLING

Continuing his apparent mission to refract the whole of English culture and history through his personal lens, Ackroyd (Thames: The Biography, 2008, etc.) offers an all-prose rendering of Chaucer’s mixed-media masterpiece.

While Burton Raffel’s modern English version of The Canterbury Tales (2008) was unabridged, Ackroyd omits both “The Tale of Melibee” and “The Parson’s Tale” on the undoubtedly correct assumption that these “standard narratives of pious exposition” hold little interest for contemporary readers. Dialing down the piety, the author dials up the raunch, freely tossing about the F-bomb and Anglo-Saxon words for various body parts that Chaucer prudently described in Latin. Since “The Wife of Bath’s Tale” and “The Miller’s Tale,” for example, are both decidedly earthy in Middle English, the interpolated obscenities seem unnecessary as well as jarringly anachronistic. And it’s anyone’s guess why Ackroyd feels obliged redundantly to include the original titles (“Here bigynneth the Squieres Tales,” etc.) directly underneath the new ones (“The Squires Tale,” etc.); these one-line blasts of antique spelling and diction remind us what we’re missing without adding anything in the way of comprehension. The author’s other peculiar choice is to occasionally interject first-person comments by the narrator where none exist in the original, such as, “He asked me about myself then—where I had come from, where I had been—but I quickly turned the conversation to another course.” There seems to be no reason for these arbitrary elaborations, which muffle the impact of those rare times in the original when Chaucer directly addresses the reader. Such quibbles would perhaps be unfair if Ackroyd were retelling some obscure gem of Old English, but they loom larger with Chaucer because there are many modern versions of The Canterbury Tales. Raffel’s rendering captured a lot more of the poetry, while doing as good a job as Ackroyd with the vigorous prose.

A not-very-illuminating updating of Chaucer’s Tales.

Pub Date: Nov. 16, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-670-02122-2

Page Count: 436

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2009

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