Diehard admirers will probably love the homespun stickiness and background secrets revealed; others should pass.

READ REVIEW

THE CHRISTMAS QUILT

Number eight in Chiaverini’s Elm Creek Quilt series delivers predictable yuletide cheer and saccharine sentiments.

Awkwardly inserted into the series’ time frame, this slim holiday offering takes place a year and a half after The Quilter’s Apprentice (1999) began with widowed Sylvia Bergstrom Compson’s reluctant return to the family home she abandoned a half-century earlier, in the middle of her successful partnership with Sarah McClure in a quilting school, but before Sylvia’s marriage to dapper old Andrew in The Master Quilter (2004). It’s Sylvia’s first Christmas at Elm Creek Manor in 50 years. Sarah and husband Matt, who tends the property’s orchards, are staying with her rather than visiting Sarah’s estranged mother. Nursing her own regrets about family quarrels, Sylvia urges Sarah to reconcile with her mother, but she refuses and heads off to the attic. Long-stowed decorations and an unfinished Christmas quilt bring back Sylvia’s suppressed memories of perfect Bergstrom Christmases past. Flashbacks move from scenes of her girlhood to the final, tragic Christmas she spent at the manor as a young woman. She learns from her dying mother how to make the famous Bergstrom apple strudel, discovers what true charity is during the Great Depression, competes fiercely with older sister Claudia, pieces together the Christmas quilt, chops down a Christmas tree with new husband James and waits for James and her brother Richard to return from WWII. (Those who have read the earlier novels know that they never do.) Intended to evoke the charms of Simpler Times, the novel is a sappy concoction of conventional wisdom and lessons learned. Previous Elm Creek Quilt installments offered solid, diverse characters and plots relevant to contemporary readers; this slapdash effort seems more a holiday project conceived for fans than a story needing to be told.

Diehard admirers will probably love the homespun stickiness and background secrets revealed; others should pass.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2005

ISBN: 0-7432-8657-X

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2005

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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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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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