A historically captivating, if dramatically underwhelming, tale.




A debut historical novel reimagines Jesus’ violent fate from the perspective of a Roman centurion who presided over the Crucifixion.

Cornelius is born and raised in Tarsus, the son of a farmer who teaches him Latin and Greek. He studies at the University of Tarsus, a “center of Stoic philosophy,” and deeply imbibes its teachings regarding the rational order of the universe, and the happiness and freedom one finds in consummating one’s destiny. Cornelius pines to become a Roman centurion, and after distinguishing himself both in training and combat, catches the eye of Pontius Pilate, soon to become the new prefect of Judea. Pilate encourages Cornelius to join him there, and the young man obliges, learning Aramaic and studying the local customs of the largely Jewish population. He befriends Jesus and his apostles, allowing them to use his villa for their gatherings. But Jesus becomes an increasingly controversial figure, feared by Rome as a political agitator and hated by the Sanhedrin as a heretic. High intelligently reconstructs the familiar historical timeline, with notably imaginative revisions: Judas’ courage and fidelity to Jesus, and Pilate’s reasonableness in the face of vexing political unrest. In addition, while Jesus is depicted as a spiritual versus a political revolutionary, his boldness is exceedingly provocative—his plan to take over the temple on Passover all but ensures his fate. In a prefatory note, the author announces his ambitious intentions, the chief of which is to show that “the teachings of Jesus seem to validate Stoic philosophy.” The novel is, in fact, peppered with discussions of Stoic natural law, though such a philosophical synthesis is never convincingly established. The chief strength of the work is its combination of historical rigor and inventiveness—High takes a venerable story and revitalizes it with a challenging new twist. But the plot develops languidly, needlessly beginning with Cornelius’ grandfather Animus, procrastinating the true drama of the tale. In addition, the dialogue is laconically leaden, written as if the exsanguination of emotion further illustrates the core of Stoical resignation. 

A historically captivating, if dramatically underwhelming, tale. 

Pub Date: Aug. 31, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-4808-6548-8

Page Count: 366

Publisher: Archway Publishing

Review Posted Online: Dec. 18, 2018

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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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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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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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