Despite its impressive philosophical ambition, this novel is as convoluted as it is implausible.


A dramatization of the ethical and religious implications of in vitro fertilization.

The Rev. Cletus Nicholas McCarthy is an ardent opponent of IVF. He considers it a violation of Catholic doctrine, as it sunders the connection between sex and procreation and undermines the dignity of human life. When two married parishioners, Edidiong and Ima Eshiet, decide to conceive a child using IVF, Father McCarthy suspends their access to the sacraments. Outraged, they sue McCarthy for various transgressions, including discrimination because they’re black Nigerians. Eventually, during the trial, it’s disclosed that Father McCarthy, who always believed he was adopted, was actually birthed via IVF, making him the first Catholic priest so conceived. Pope Benedict XVI now must make a decision—not only regarding Father McCarthy’s fate, but also regarding the future doctrine of the church. Meanwhile, Barbara Sander’s daughter, Crystal, also conceived by IVF, desperately wants to know who her biological father is, and she determines that Dr. Josef Horacek was the sperm donor. Horacek was once Barbara’s colleague; she was in love with him, and he used his sperm for her procedure without her knowledge. To further complicate the tangled plot, Crystal is friends with Edo-Mma—the Eshiets’s daughter—and Horacek is Edidiong’s old college friend. And the character connections don’t stop there. Debut author Ayang has produced a high-reaching, philosophically charged novel that covers not only the bioethical issues involving IVF, but also the modern condition of the Catholic Church. However, the plot is laborious and tortuous—both challenging to follow and needlessly drawn out. Furthermore, the prose is often awkward and leaden, particularly during mechanically delivered exchanges of dialogue: “We are simply a puzzled mother and daughter seeking the truth,” Barbara says to Horacek at one point, for example, “and our appetite for food and drink will only be whetted by a true answer to quest.”

Despite its impressive philosophical ambition, this novel is as convoluted as it is implausible.

Pub Date: May 23, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-4897-1185-4

Page Count: 326

Publisher: LifeRichPublishing

Review Posted Online: Oct. 4, 2017

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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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Though gripping, even moving at times, the novel doesn’t do justice to the solemn history from which it is drawn.


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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