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


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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as...

Reader Votes

  • Readers Vote
  • 22

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller


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

Did you like this book?


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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet