An exquisite rendering of the ancient tale, with none of the anachronistic ironies that such updatings too often contain.

SAINT JULIAN

The life of the legendary medieval penitent and saint, retold with style and elegance by Wangerin (The Crying for a Vision, 1994, etc.).

Julian’s origins are so dubious that he isn’t on the calendar—yet his cult is so popular (he’s the patron saint of ferrymen, among others) that there are thousands of churches dedicated to him throughout of Europe (St. Julien-le-Pauvre in Paris may be the most famous). Flaubert wrote a famous story about him (“The Legend of St. Julian Hospitater” [sic]), and now Wangerin has taken up the legend, speaking through the mouth of an elderly priest in a tiny village in the middle of nowhere who has decided to write an account of the saint. The son of a nobleman, Julian worked wonders before he was even in the cradle (the touch of his infant tears saved his mother from death during his delivery), and from his earliest days he combined the fervor of a saint with the courage of a soldier. The combination was not as harmonious as it may sound: Julian’s passion for warfare was such that a kind of blood lust would sometimes come over him and he would hunt secretly at night for the sheer joy of killing his prey. When a stag, dying from one of Julian’s blows, spoke to him and told him that he would one day kill his own parents, Julian was overcome with shame and ran away from home in remorse and terror. Eventually, the stag’s prophecy (and worse) comes to pass, and Julian tries to atone through a life of penitence in service to the poor. He builds a hospice for the sick and provides shelter for pilgrims and wanderers. His salvation comes when he takes in a miserable leper who, turning out to be Christ in disguise, embraces Julian and bears his soul to heaven.

An exquisite rendering of the ancient tale, with none of the anachronistic ironies that such updatings too often contain.

Pub Date: March 1, 2003

ISBN: 0-06-052252-6

Page Count: 256

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2002

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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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An interesting premise imperfectly executed.

THE ORPHAN'S TALE

A Jewish trapeze artist and a Dutch unwed mother bond, after much aerial practice, as the circus comes to Nazi-occupied France.

Ingrid grew up in a Jewish circus family in Darmstadt, Germany. In 1934, she marries Erich, a German officer, and settles in Berlin. In 1942, as the war and Holocaust escalate, Erich is forced to divorce Ingrid. She returns to Darmstadt to find that her family has disappeared. A rival German circus clan, led by its patriarch, Herr Neuhoff, takes her in, giving her a stage name, Astrid, and forged Aryan papers. As she rehearses for the circus’ coming French tour, she once again experiences the freedom of an accomplished aerialist, even as her age, late 20s, catches up with her. The point of view shifts (and will alternate throughout) to Noa, a Dutch teenager thrown out by her formerly loving father when she gets pregnant by a German soldier. After leaving the German unwed mothers’ home where her infant has been taken away, either for the Reich’s Lebensborn adoption program or a worse fate, Noa finds work sweeping a train station. When she comes upon a boxcar full of dead or dying infants, she impulsively grabs one who resembles her own child, later naming him Theo. By chance, Noa and Theo are also rescued by Neuhoff, who offers her refuge in the circus, provided she can learn the trapeze. The tour begins with a stop in Thiers, France. Astrid is still leery of her new apprentice, but Noa catches on quickly and soon must replace Astrid in the act due to the risk that a Nazi spectator might recognize her. Noa falls in love with the mayor’s son, Luc, who Astrid suspects is a collaborator. Astrid’s Russian lover, Peter, a clown, tempts fate with a goose-stepping satire routine, and soon the circus will afford little protection to anybody. The diction seems too contemporary for the period, and the degree of danger the characters are in is more often summarized than demonstrated.

An interesting premise imperfectly executed.

Pub Date: Feb. 28, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-7783-1981-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Harlequin MIRA

Review Posted Online: Oct. 19, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2016

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