A colorful and engaging animal tale set in a biblical world.

THE GATHERING

MASTER EDITION: A METAPHORICAL ODYSSEY THROUGH THE SCRIPTURES

A Christian fantasy focuses on the days leading up to the Great Flood.

This elaborate tale features a cast of anthropomorphized animal characters: Judah, a lion; Sophia, a green serpent; Azel, a goat; Lumis, a wolf; and Eloshova, a black sheep. As the story unfolds, they’re all caught up in a vague mystical vision beckoning them across the landscape of a strange Old Testament world full of wonders and perils. They are trying to reach the Mountain of Gathering, where the mysterious call is drawing representatives of all living things on Earth in preparation for the Great Flood and the launching of Noah’s Ark. Milor deftly evokes this little-known world that would have existed in the brief interval between the opening of the book of Genesis and the story of the Great Flood. The conceit is brilliantly elegant in its simplicity, filling in a gap in the traditional biblical narrative with a modern-style, middle-grade adventure featuring vibrant characters, exotic locations, and plenty of exciting plot twists. These elements are guaranteed to hold the interest of young Christian readers already familiar with the famous stories of the Bible. Judah and his friends have distinct and sometimes clashing personalities. They must learn to overcome both their personal differences and the many obstacles Milor puts in their paths as they make their way across a realm the author very inventively imagines from the scant clues provided in the early sections of Genesis.

Each of the work’s chapters is accompanied by a full-color plate by debut illustrator Lopez, the author’s daughter-in-law, and is followed by an intriguing critical gloss by Milor. After a chapter featuring the villain of the piece, Nephram, for instance, the author switches his focus and pitches his commentary straight to his book’s adult readers. “Again and again, Nephram is completely baffled by what he sees concerning Judah and all the animals following him,” he writes. “In a similar way, the people of the world are often mystified by Christians, and either mock their faith, or rally against it.” At another point, when the heroes are temporarily lost, Milor again draws a larger lesson: “By providing a light to our feet, God is walking very close with us, and ensuring we stick by His side, rather than running off into the darkness ahead of Him, to places we are not ready to encounter yet. Every step we take, with the little bit of light that we have, is an active process of seeking.” These annotated sections, set off in a smaller type font, are clearly addressed not to children but to their parents and teachers as a guide to the tale’s many allegorical layers. The combined effect is ultimately winning: Adults will be as captivated by the commentary as children will be by the main story of courageous animals in peril.

A colorful and engaging animal tale set in a biblical world. (Color and black-and-white illustrations)

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2020

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 237

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: April 1, 2020

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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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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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A unique if occasionally overreaching novel for lovers of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.

FLORENCE ADLER SWIMS FOREVER

In a darkly comic debut, Beanland tells the story of a Jewish family on the New Jersey coast in 1934.

It begins with tragedy: Florence Adler, while working toward her ambitious goal of becoming the first Jewish woman to swim the English Channel, drowns off the coast of Atlantic City. Shifting ambitiously among seven different third-person perspectives, the novel explores the aftermath of the tragedy as experienced by three generations of the Adler family and those adjacent to it. Florence’s older sister, Fannie, is on bed rest as she prepares to give birth to her third child a year after having lost her second. The Adler family matriarch, Esther, decides it would be best to keep the tragedy from Fannie in order to minimize her risk of losing the baby. As the family fights against all odds to keep this huge secret, other issues are brought to light, from jealousy to hidden romances to shady business dealings. Remarkably, the plot feels coherent despite the seven points of view, but the novel falters thematically; it could have been a sensitive exploration of the sometimes-absurd lengths we'll go to protect the people we love, but it turns into a diffuse attempt to do too much. The novel's events take place in the shadow of the approaching Holocaust, but the author fails to engage meaningfully with it and so it reads like an afterthought. Perhaps Beanland thought writing a story about Jews set in the 1930s that doesn't deal with that tragedy would be frivolous or insensitive, but the result of her half-baked approach is an “add-Holocaust-and-stir” effect that lacks emotional verisimilitude. In addition, some of the Jewish details in the novel are historically dubious if not incorrect. In this regard, it is reminiscent of the hit show The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel; also in this regard, the particularity of the setting may nonetheless be enough to buoy it, particularly for those interested in little-known pieces of American Jewish culture.

A unique if occasionally overreaching novel for lovers of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.

Pub Date: July 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-982132-46-0

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2020

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