An often remarkable, if sometimes slow-paced, extension of an ancient tale.

GOLD IN HAVILAH

A NOVEL OF CAIN'S WIFE

A work of historical fiction that reimagines the biblical story of Cain and Abel from the perspective of Cain’s wife, Akliah.

Banished from the Garden of Eden, the family of Adam and Eve place their hopes for eventual return in Cain, who’s prophesied to kill the Serpent responsible for their exile. However, Cain dithers and becomes increasingly irreverent toward the family and their God. Still, his younger sister, Akliah, pines to become his wife, and when she learns that her older sister, Luluwa, has been promised to him by Adam, she conspires to take her place. Cain is seduced by Lilith, a beautiful ally of the Serpent who convinces him that God is a lying despot. Cain refuses to crush the Serpent and instead intends to populate the Earth with children by both Luluwa and Lilith. After he kills his brother, Abel, he heads east of Eden with Akliah and attempts to establish a new city at Nod to rival the Garden. God marks Cain so that no man can kill him and curses the land so it won’t yield food, which only makes Cain more defiant. Akliah is impregnated by Cain and learns of another family—the descendants of Eli. She falls for Eli’s son, Gabril, but is ashamed to tell him of her past and goes on to live a tortured life. Author Hoefling (Journey to God, 2010) seamlessly combines her extraordinary mastery of early biblical tales with a spirit of inventive creativity, weaving a story that both embellishes but also preserves the original story. The prose has a rhetorical style that’s often powerful in its simplicity: “I was charged with the sacred duty of preparing Eden for all of humanity to enjoy,” Adam says at one point. “Yet I did not have enough mastery over myself to do the one thing needful.” The plot sometimes slows to a saunter that’s much too leisurely, especially when retelling the story from the book of Genesis. Nonetheless, this is a gripping account that only deepens an inherited tale about the birth of mankind and about good and evil.

An often remarkable, if sometimes slow-paced, extension of an ancient tale.

Pub Date: June 6, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-5127-8798-6

Page Count: 344

Publisher: Westbow Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 25, 2017

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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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