Past the clunky soundtrack and heroic Yank, there’s a great story here.


Carcaterra (best known for Sleepers, 1995) inserts an American into the Four Days of Naples, when the great port city was saved from Nazi destruction by an army composed mostly of boys.

The Italians made a beautiful film of this astonishing and true WWII story of Neapolitan heroism, but Carcaterra’s new version supposes an American hero, a second-year law student from Kentucky, Steve Connors, now ably serving as an army corporal. Connors is sent in by his commander to reconnoiter Naples, which the Germans have recently evacuated of its citizens prior to executing Hitler’s order to destroy the city. The Allied Forces are sitting on their duffs, waiting for a go-ahead from Field Marshall Montgomery, but the Germans aren’t. Colonel Von Klaus’s Panzer tanks are clanking down the road, picking off stray Italians and headed for what they are sure will be a cakewalk. Corporal Connors, losing his two sidekicks in action on the way into the city, gains a replacement force of scugnizzi, Neapolitan street urchins, and a wounded but still valiant mastiff. By a miracle roughly equivalent to the liquification of the blood of Naples’ patron San Gennaro, the lads—and most of the lads Connors will meet—speak, not just English, but an English that reads eerily like a dubbed soundtrack. Connors himself speaks a lot of exposition, dialogue not being a Carcaterra strong point. Connors hooks up with one of the few adults in town, a clever but cynical boozer with a comely daughter, and together they set a strategy to stop the Panzers in their tracks. The action finally picks up, halfway through the story, with the onslaught of the Nazis and execution of the plan, which involves a lot of sewer scuttling for the scugnizzi, street urchins, and surprise for the conquerors of Europe. Connors and the pretty daughter will find a few quiet moments alone amid the fray.

Past the clunky soundtrack and heroic Yank, there’s a great story here.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2002

ISBN: 0-345-41096-3

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2002

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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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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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While a few weeks ago it seemed as if Praeger would have a two month lead over Dutton in their presentation of this Soviet best seller, both the "authorized" edition (Dutton's) and the "unauthorized" (Praeger's) will appear almost simultaneously. There has been considerable advance attention on what appears to be as much of a publishing cause celebre here as the original appearance of the book in Russia. Without entering into the scrimmage, or dismissing it as a plague on both your houses, we will limit ourselves to a few facts. Royalties from the "unauthorized" edition will go to the International Rescue Committee; Dutton with their contracted edition is adhering to copyright conventions. The Praeger edition has two translators and one of them is the translator of Doctor Zhivago Dutton's translator, Ralph Parker, has been stigmatized by Praeger as "an apologist for the Soviet regime". To the untutored eye, the Dutton translation seems a little more literary, the Praeger perhaps closer to the rather primitive style of the original. The book itself is an account of one day in the three thousand six hundred and fifty three days of the sentence to be served by a carpenter, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. (Solzhenitsyn was a political prisoner.) From the unrelenting cold without, to the conditions within, from the bathhouse to the latrine to the cells where survival for more than two weeks is impossible, this records the hopeless facts of existence as faced by thousands who went on "living like this, with your eyes on the ground". The Dutton edition has an excellent introduction providing an orientation on the political background to its appearance in Russia by Marvin Kalb. All involved in its publication (translators, introducers, etc.) claim for it great "artistic" values which we cannot share, although there is no question of its importance as a political and human document and as significant and tangible evidence of the de-Stalinization program.

Pub Date: June 15, 1963

ISBN: 0451228146

Page Count: 181

Publisher: Praeger

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1963

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