An unusually structured, thoroughly researched and deeply felt work that creates an intimate portrait of two women and the...

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THIS ISN'T EASY FOR ME

In Berengaut’s (The Estate of Wormwood and Honey, 2012) second novel, two women discuss love, physics, infidelity, polyamory, mathematics, the Holocaust and the importance of family.

Imagine if My Dinner with Andre, with its emphasis on dialogue and the nuanced analysis of past adventure and philosophy, took place between two contemporary, highly accomplished women having lunch. Berengaut has accomplished something remarkable: a novel composed entirely of dialogue, with no chapter breaks, that is riveting from beginning to end. Sabine Stern is an academic who is regularly invited to speak at top-tier universities, while Renata Rubinstein is a world-famous, wealthy intellectual married to a genius mathematician named Mark. Ostensibly, Sabine has arranged to meet Renata about a “personal matter,” but the conversation takes on incredible scope and depth, traversing the two women’s vast experience and knowledge, including their ancestors’ time in Nazi Germany and concepts of poetry and sexual fidelity. The narrative begins to take shape when Sabine mentions that she received an email out of the blue from Renata’s husband about a mathematical concept related to her work. Gradually, the women discover that their connection is about more than a simple chance email; the interweaving of their backgrounds, philosophies and approaches toward living has the potential to dramatically alter each of their destinies. The book’s strength is simultaneously its weakness. As Sabine and Renata discuss at one point: “It’s hard to believe that, once upon the time, people used to read philosophy for pleasure.” “It is a rather strange experience, reading those books. You understand the words, you sort of think that you understand the sentences, but the sense of paragraphs—not to say anything about whole chapters—is completely elusive.” Indeed, the engrossing narrative, which twists and turns through a variety of historical anecdotes and personal experiences, has no natural breaks, almost forcing readers to finish it in one sitting. However, the experience is a richly rewarding one, and the surprise ending is poignant without being sentimental. These mature, thoughtful women are unlike almost any others in popular contemporary literature, and their conversation—long, gorgeous, encompassing—is one of the most memorable in literature of the last 10 years.

An unusually structured, thoroughly researched and deeply felt work that creates an intimate portrait of two women and the decades they have thoughtfully inhabited.

Pub Date: Aug. 27, 2014

ISBN: 978-1500856175

Page Count: 256

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Oct. 21, 2014

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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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