NOSFERATU

The prolific and versatile Shepard (Batting Against Castro, 1996, etc.) offers in his intermittently enthralling fifth novel an empathetic fictionalized biography of the great German silent-film director F. W. Murnau (18881931). Born Friedrich Wilhelm Plumpe to a deeply bourgeois Westphalian family, Shepard's protagonist is first seen, in 1907, as a reluctant student of philology at Charolottenburg, where he meets the invincible and sophisticated Hans Ehrenbaum-Degele, a budding poet who will become Wilhelm's schoolmate, soulmate, and lover—and whose aestheticism will encourage the self-created ``Murnau'' (the name of a Bavarian resort the two visit) to pursue his interest in the theater. These early pages are superb: Shepard has so thoroughly mastered the idiom and feel of the period that we seem to be inside a young Thomas Mann novel. The narrative then proceeds both through flashback (showing Wilhelm's unhappy boyhood) and straight chronology, moving forward first to Murnau's apprenticeship at Max Reinhardt's theater school in Berlin, his disturbing intimacy with such decadent eminences as poet Else Lasker-Schuller and homosexual film actor Conrad Veidt. There are splendid accounts of Murnau's wartime service as a fighter pilot (during which he ``came to understand aviation as a new way of seeing'') and later of the preparations for and filming of his vampire movie Nosferatu (a memorable vision of ``The natural world operating under the shadow of the supernatural.'' But, alas, the story's second half unconvincingly telescopes the remainder of Murnau's (admittedly brief) career and life: the filming of Der Letzte Mann, distinguished by its use of a moving camera devised by his brilliant cinematographer Karl Freund; his star-crossed Tahitian collaboration (on Tabu) with documentary filmmaker Robert Flaherty; and his death following an auto accident. This should have been a terrific novel—and a longer one. Its images simply flicker by so quickly that its power to involve and move is frustratingly dissipated.

Pub Date: April 8, 1998

ISBN: 0-679-44667-2

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1998

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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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ONE DAY IN THE LIFE OF IVAN DENISOVICH

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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