A slow-moving but well-written tale embroidering the life of one of Scripture’s most charismatic figures.

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THE WIFE OF JOHN THE BAPTIST

This reimagining of John the Baptist’s life gives the itinerate prophet a Greek wife who desperately wants him to avert his dark destiny.

The Bible doesn’t mention a wife for the locust-and-honey-eating forerunner of the Christian savior, but as the titular wife here reasonably explains: “A woman, in those days, was not counted. So even after we were married, people continued to say that John lived alone in the wilderness.” Hessa, who narrates the novel, tells of growing up “in Decapolis, south of the Sea of Galilee and west of the Jordan River, during the time when Judea was a Roman province.” K.’s (The Concubine’s Gift, 2011) vivid writing engagingly depicts the ancient Middle East, describing “Phoenician traders from the sea coast, jewelers from Jerusalem, fine pottery merchants from Greece, lumber dealers from Syria and even magicians from Egypt.” In a touch of magical realism, her merchant father values her ability to tell an object’s history simply by holding it. Though he wants her to marry abroad to solidify his trading connections, her latent adventurousness makes her hesitant to marry at all, until one day in the marketplace she meets a man with “the beautiful, dark eyes of a wild girl.” When she touches John’s hand she knows he fears neither poverty nor death. They marry against her father’s wishes and wander south together along the banks of the Jordan, living in a goatskin tent. Theirs is a Song of Solomon kind of marital bliss, yet Hessa fears the way John is drawn to an increasingly public life, attracting followers she must then find a way to feed as well as the attentions of the land’s Roman occupiers and Zealot rebels. Though the story inevitably leads to John’s martyrdom, it is more so the story of a marriage rather than the tumultuous events that surrounded it.

A slow-moving but well-written tale embroidering the life of one of Scripture’s most charismatic figures.

Pub Date: Jan. 20, 2014

ISBN: 978-1493722464

Page Count: 172

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: April 7, 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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A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

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THE GIVER OF STARS

Women become horseback librarians in 1930s Kentucky and face challenges from the landscape, the weather, and the men around them.

Alice thought marrying attractive American Bennett Van Cleve would be her ticket out of her stifling life in England. But when she and Bennett settle in Baileyville, Kentucky, she realizes that her life consists of nothing more than staying in their giant house all day and getting yelled at by his unpleasant father, who owns a coal mine. She’s just about to resign herself to a life of boredom when an opportunity presents itself in the form of a traveling horseback library—an initiative from Eleanor Roosevelt meant to counteract the devastating effects of the Depression by focusing on literacy and learning. Much to the dismay of her husband and father-in-law, Alice signs up and soon learns the ropes from the library’s leader, Margery. Margery doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her, rejects marriage, and would rather be on horseback than in a kitchen. And even though all this makes Margery a town pariah, Alice quickly grows to like her. Along with several other women (including one black woman, Sophia, whose employment causes controversy in a town that doesn’t believe black and white people should be allowed to use the same library), Margery and Alice supply magazines, Bible stories, and copies of books like Little Women to the largely poor residents who live in remote areas. Alice spends long days in terrible weather on horseback, but she finally feels happy in her new life in Kentucky, even as her marriage to Bennett is failing. But her powerful father-in-law doesn’t care for Alice’s job or Margery’s lifestyle, and he’ll stop at nothing to shut their library down. Basing her novel on the true story of the Pack Horse Library Project established by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s, Moyes (Still Me, 2018, etc.) brings an often forgotten slice of history to life. She writes about Kentucky with lush descriptions of the landscape and tender respect for the townspeople, most of whom are poor, uneducated, and grateful for the chance to learn. Although Alice and Margery both have their own romances, the true power of the story is in the bonds between the women of the library. They may have different backgrounds, but their commitment to helping the people of Baileyville brings them together.

A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-56248-8

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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