A MAGGOT

Fowles calls his new novel, which basically is homage to the philosophical underpinnings of Shakerism and to the moral narratives of Defoe, "a maggot": a 17th-century-style working-out of an obsessive theme. In length and relative linearity, the book is just that. The fictional kernel is small: the strange journey of an English lord, his deaf/dumb valet, and ex-whore maid and two other ancillaries that results in a scene of revelation enacted in a cave; then death, disappearance, and legal reconstruction of the happening. The lord's father hires a lawyer—and most of the book is composed of this lawyer's interrogatories with the surviving participants, namely the ex-whore, now named Rebecca and become a mystic (and the mother-to-be of Anne Lee, the founder of Shakerism). Conducted wholly in period English, these depositions have an eloquence and pith that are impressive. Less so are Fowles' buttings-in in modern language, during which he comments from the vantage point of a later age on Rebecca's salvationism, its mixtures of pure feminism and communism and fervor. In the questions and answers of the lawyer and Rebecca, these ideas have drama, but when Fowles steps back to gloss them, they curl up ("In truth these two were set apart from each other not only by countless barriers of age, sex, class, education, native province and the rest, but by something far deeper still: by belonging to two very different halves of the human spirit, perhaps at root those, left and right, of the two hemispheres of the human brain"), and they are as pungent as commentary on educational TV. Though the dogged antiqueness of it all may put some readers off, it's the very virtuoso power of the language—the ideas in context—that makes the novel interesting. Once Fowles dusts the ideas off and puts them plain in his own voice, they seem unremarkable.

Pub Date: Sept. 5, 1985

ISBN: 0316290491

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: March 29, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1985

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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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ANIMAL FARM

A FAIRY STORY

A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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