The understated tone of this Everyman’s Citizen Kane perfectly suits Lehrer’s gifts, as he eschews his usual satiric stance...


A young ex-Marine pursues two ideals, a major-league baseball career and a young woman he knows only as Betsy, in Lehrer’s bittersweet 19th novel (Mack to the Rescue, 2008, etc.).

It’s 1944, and Johnny Wrigley is 17 and green as grass when the troop transport taking him from Baltimore to California stops off in Wichita, Kan. Though the stop lasts barely half an hour, it’s long enough for Johnny to lose his virginity with Betsy, one of the girls who came to meet the train with apples and smokes for the recruits. Johnny can see that Betsy is religious in an oddly directive way he’s never encountered before. But he also knows from the first that he loves her in a way he’ll never love anyone else, and in a series of letters he composes but never writes down, he pledges his love and vows that he’ll return. That turns out to be a tall order. First Johnny has to survive brutal combat on the island of Peleliu, where he’s been trained to use a flamethrower—an assignment that turns him into a target and gives him a worm’s-eye view of horrific casualties, including those he inflicts himself. Then, on his return stateside, he has to search fruitlessly through Wichita and environs for Betsy before giving up and returning home to Lafayette, Md. Eagerly embraced by his fond mother and the kid sister of a friend who was killed in Europe, Johnny reverts to his original dream: becoming a baseball star in the mold of his idol, Brooklyn Dodgers center fielder Pete Reiser. This dream also goes bad, leaving Johnny with nothing but a menial job and his hopes of returning to both baseball and Betsy. Eventually his dreams come true, but not quite in the way he expected.

The understated tone of this Everyman’s Citizen Kane perfectly suits Lehrer’s gifts, as he eschews his usual satiric stance for a warmhearted evocation of the road not taken.

Pub Date: March 31, 2009

ISBN: 978-1-4000-6762-6

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2009

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While a few weeks ago it seemed as if Praeger would have a two month lead over Dutton in their presentation of this Soviet best seller, both the "authorized" edition (Dutton's) and the "unauthorized" (Praeger's) will appear almost simultaneously. There has been considerable advance attention on what appears to be as much of a publishing cause celebre here as the original appearance of the book in Russia. Without entering into the scrimmage, or dismissing it as a plague on both your houses, we will limit ourselves to a few facts. Royalties from the "unauthorized" edition will go to the International Rescue Committee; Dutton with their contracted edition is adhering to copyright conventions. The Praeger edition has two translators and one of them is the translator of Doctor Zhivago Dutton's translator, Ralph Parker, has been stigmatized by Praeger as "an apologist for the Soviet regime". To the untutored eye, the Dutton translation seems a little more literary, the Praeger perhaps closer to the rather primitive style of the original. The book itself is an account of one day in the three thousand six hundred and fifty three days of the sentence to be served by a carpenter, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. (Solzhenitsyn was a political prisoner.) From the unrelenting cold without, to the conditions within, from the bathhouse to the latrine to the cells where survival for more than two weeks is impossible, this records the hopeless facts of existence as faced by thousands who went on "living like this, with your eyes on the ground". The Dutton edition has an excellent introduction providing an orientation on the political background to its appearance in Russia by Marvin Kalb. All involved in its publication (translators, introducers, etc.) claim for it great "artistic" values which we cannot share, although there is no question of its importance as a political and human document and as significant and tangible evidence of the de-Stalinization program.

Pub Date: June 15, 1963

ISBN: 0451228146

Page Count: 181

Publisher: Praeger

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1963

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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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