A cleareyed, courageous presentation of Jewish issues, and not a bad story either.

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SINGLE JEWISH MALE SEEKING SOUL MATE

The son of Holocaust survivors has a hard time keeping his promises to his parents.

"By the time he went to bed that Friday night before his bar mitzvah day, Zach Levy had made four promises to his parents: that he would grow up to be a mensch, marry a Jew, raise Jewish children, and tithe 10 percent of his earnings to help keep Israel safe so it would always be there if a Jew needed it." Pogrebin (Three Daughters, 2002, etc.) shows us how difficult it can be to honor these pledges, as her protagonist's difficulties in finding a nice Jewish girl not only prevent him from raising Jewish children, but also lead him into some fairly unmensch-y behavior. The story begins in the Bronx, where 6-year-old Zach finds an old photo album with a picture of a beautiful woman and a baby. He is stunned to learn that it's his mother—now a miserable, pale, "voiceless wraith adrift in a sea of half-done chores"—and his long-dead brother. Zach spends years trying to ferret out the details of his family's tragic history, finally revealed by his father the day after his bar mitzvah. Both parents are dead by the time Zach meets Bonnie Bertelsman outside his office at the ACLU, where she's accosting passersby to sign a petition. They marry and have a child—but at that point things veer off track: the marriage ends early, and his daughter is raised in Australia. He's on the hunt for wife No. 2 when he meets the lovely, outspoken radio host Cleo Scott at the founding meeting of the Black-Jewish Coalition of New York. This somewhat programmatic novel comes to life as it dramatizes the dilemmas Zach faces by loving a black woman.

A cleareyed, courageous presentation of Jewish issues, and not a bad story either.

Pub Date: May 12, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-55861-886-2

Page Count: 296

Publisher: Feminist Press

Review Posted Online: March 17, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2015

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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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Another success for the publishing phenom.

UNDER CURRENTS

An abused boy fights back, escapes, then returns as an attorney to his beloved hometown, but just as he’s falling in love with a transplanted landscaper, a series of attacks from shadowy enemies jeopardizes their happiness.

“From the outside, the house in Lakeview Terrace looked perfect.” Which of course means that it wasn't. We're introduced to the horrifying Dr. Graham Bigelow, who beats his wife and, increasingly as the boy gets older, his son, Zane. On the night of Zane’s prom, a particularly savage attack puts him and his sister in the hospital, and his father blames Zane, landing him in jail. Then his sister stands up for him, enlisting the aid of their aunt, and everything changes, mainly due to Zane’s secret diaries. Nearly 20 years later, Zane leaves a successful career as a lawyer to return to Lakeview, where his aunt and sister live with their families, deciding to hang a shingle as a small-town lawyer. Then he meets Darby McCray, the landscaper who’s recently relocated and taken the town by storm, starting with the transformation of his family’s rental bungalows. The two are instantly intrigued by each other, but they move slowly into a relationship neither is looking for. Darby has a violent past of her own, so she is more than willing to take on the risk of antagonizing a boorish local family when she and Zane help an abused wife. Suddenly Zane and Darby face one attack after another, and even as they grow ever closer under the pressure, the dangers become more insidious. Roberts’ latest title feels a little long and the story is slightly cumbersome, but her greatest strength is in making the reader feel connected to her characters, so “unnecessary details” can also charm and engage.

Another success for the publishing phenom.

Pub Date: July 9, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-20709-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: April 14, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2019

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