S

A companion piece to Roger's Version, this is Updike updating Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter by having Hester Prynne—here, Sarah Worth—get her two cents in as well. Sarah is a Boston-area matron who, as the book begins (which is all in letters from her, as well as the occasional transcript of a tape), has left her internist husband to travel out to Arizona and join the ashram of the Arhat, a multiple-Mercedes, owning guru absolutely patterned on the Rajneesh of Oregon fame. Sarah is no New Age twit, however, and her letters home, though filled with Sanskrit sublimities (Updike appends a 13-page glossary, assuming—as Updike will—that you'll be as interested in the specific informations of his fiction as he is), are also abrim with practical and very matronly advice to daughter, aged mother, and friends, mostly concerning money. For though the guru (who's later unmasked as Art Steinmetz from Watertown, Mass.) is a master-bilker himself, Sarah's no slouch and lands on her feet even after the veils of maya have been lifted from her eyes. Like Roger's Version and its computer-mainframe, Sarah's novel is one big trope, with a central (not extremely funny) joke (Arhat=Art) and reversal at the end. But it all seems too easy—as though Updike, like Graham Greene, now categorizes himself: a writer of novels (the Rabbit books) but also of more balsa-wood entertainments (as have been the last few books). Wit-soaked and completely au courant as these latter are (even the stock-market crash is prophesied here by Sarah's shrewd head for finance), they dissolve in the mind as soon as they're finished. Possible moral here: a rage for symmetry isn't always an artist's best friend.

Pub Date: Feb. 12, 1988

ISBN: 0394568354

Page Count: 292

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: Oct. 6, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1988

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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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THE SCREWTAPE LETTERS

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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