Less convincing when striving for the epic, this solid novel achieves its strongest moments of emotional resonance in the...

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SAFEKEEPING

An alcoholic who travels to Israel on a mission of atonement—to return a priceless brooch to an aging kibbutznik—is one of a disparate group of survivors with intertwined futures.

Hope’s debut, a saga of lives intersecting at Kibbutz Sadot Hador in 1994, accrues its momentum slowly, like a rolling stone. The story is spearheaded by 26-year-old Adam Soccorso, who has fled here from New York, searching for a woman named Dagmar, to whom his recently deceased grandfather had long ago tried to give a family heirloom, a medieval sapphire brooch decorated with pomegranates. Adam, a recovering alcoholic with some recent sins weighing heavily on his conscience, naively believes that handing over the brooch will make things right. The kibbutz community he joins includes international volunteers like him—including ruthless Ulya, from Belarus, whose goal is a glamorous life in Manhattan; and French-Canadian Claudette, freighted with her own long burden of misery—and locals like the musically talented Israeli soldier Ofir and Ziva, an elderly firebrand whose commitment to the original socialist ideals of the kibbutz has filled and shaped her life. They all carry a measure of suffering, and after giving plenty of time to each of their stories, Hope sets about mingling their various paths toward redemption. At a larger level, she uses the brooch to connect episodes of anti-Semitism down the ages. With its multiple mininarratives and characters who lack convincing depth, the story often remains earthbound; but Hope hits her stride as Claudette begins to outgrow her past and Ziva reluctantly embraces truths she has long denied. Not all the characters are granted absolution or even a definite fate, but the brooch ends up in the right home.

Less convincing when striving for the epic, this solid novel achieves its strongest moments of emotional resonance in the presence of its older female characters.

Pub Date: June 9, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-941493-06-9

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Fig Tree Books

Review Posted Online: March 24, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2015

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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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THE SCREWTAPE LETTERS

These letters from some important executive Down Below, to one of the junior devils here on earth, whose job is to corrupt mortals, are witty and written in a breezy style seldom found in religious literature. The author quotes Luther, who said: "The best way to drive out the devil, if he will not yield to texts of Scripture, is to jeer and flout him, for he cannot bear scorn." This the author does most successfully, for by presenting some of our modern and not-so-modern beliefs as emanating from the devil's headquarters, he succeeds in making his reader feel like an ass for ever having believed in such ideas. This kind of presentation gives the author a tremendous advantage over the reader, however, for the more timid reader may feel a sense of guilt after putting down this book. It is a clever book, and for the clever reader, rather than the too-earnest soul.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1942

ISBN: 0060652934

Page Count: 53

Publisher: Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Oct. 17, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1943

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