A historically brilliant revision of an ancient war tale, overstocked with inessential information.

THE PHILISTINE WARRIOR

A work of fiction reimagines the biblical story of Samson and Delilah. 

The familiar tale of Samson and Delilah is really a compendium of historically contradictory permutations, forever contested. Larew (Luther Was a Pheasant, 2015, etc.) experimentally explores a revisionist interpretation of his own, adopting the perspective of the Philistines; as a result, Samson is cast as a vile scoundrel and Delilah as a heroine in distress. Phicol of Askelon, Delilah’s older cousin and a military commander whose star is rising, narrates the story in the first person. While visiting Delilah, now living with her Uncle Zaggi in conquered Canaan lands, Phicol learns that she will wed Prince Ekosh, a marriage of extraordinary political significance. She becomes pregnant with his child and a prophecy predicts that the infant will one day become a great ruler. But Delilah loses her baby—possibly to foul play—and war rages on between the Philistines and insurgent Canaanite and Judean forces. Ekosh becomes king and Delilah queen, but he is assassinated by Samson, a rebel Canaanite. Later, Samson kidnaps Delilah and rapes her, and as a result she carries his child. Samson is apprehended—with the hair that is the magical source of his strength shorn—and tortured, but now Delilah must decide what to do with her unborn child, who bears the blood of her people’s sworn enemies but is protected by the goddess she secretly follows. Larew includes a useful discussion at the conclusion of the novel about the historical sources he draws upon and the ways in which he dramatically departs from them. He takes some liberties—for example, he decides to make Samson an alcoholic, which neatly accounts for some of his mercurial behavior. A retired history professor, the author displays a command of the period that is breathtaking, and he vividly brings alive the era with a sense of epochal authenticity. But the microscopic details of the political intrigue of the day are maddeningly labyrinthine, and the swarm of minutiae slows the plot down to a belabored crawl. 

A historically brilliant revision of an ancient war tale, overstocked with inessential information. 

Pub Date: Nov. 9, 2011

ISBN: 978-1-4679-0556-5

Page Count: 342

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: June 2, 2017

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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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Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

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ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

Doerr presents us with two intricate stories, both of which take place during World War II; late in the novel, inevitably, they intersect.

In August 1944, Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a blind 16-year-old living in the walled port city of Saint-Malo in Brittany and hoping to escape the effects of Allied bombing. D-Day took place two months earlier, and Cherbourg, Caen and Rennes have already been liberated. She’s taken refuge in this city with her great-uncle Etienne, at first a fairly frightening figure to her. Marie-Laure’s father was a locksmith and craftsman who made scale models of cities that Marie-Laure studied so she could travel around on her own. He also crafted clever and intricate boxes, within which treasures could be hidden. Parallel to the story of Marie-Laure we meet Werner and Jutta Pfennig, a brother and sister, both orphans who have been raised in the Children’s House outside Essen, in Germany. Through flashbacks we learn that Werner had been a curious and bright child who developed an obsession with radio transmitters and receivers, both in their infancies during this period. Eventually, Werner goes to a select technical school and then, at 18, into the Wehrmacht, where his technical aptitudes are recognized and he’s put on a team trying to track down illegal radio transmissions. Etienne and Marie-Laure are responsible for some of these transmissions, but Werner is intrigued since what she’s broadcasting is innocent—she shares her passion for Jules Verne by reading aloud 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A further subplot involves Marie-Laure’s father’s having hidden a valuable diamond, one being tracked down by Reinhold von Rumpel, a relentless German sergeant-major.

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4658-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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