A tour de force.

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FLEA CIRCUS

A BRIEF BESTIARY OF GRIEF

Tim Acree, Brooklyn barkeep's boy, merchant sailor, entomologist, aka Professor Aloysius, flea-circus ringmaster, lies dead, a suicide, at the bottom of a tenement air shaft. And Isabelle Oystershifl mourns.

Keifetz's (Corrido, 1998) second novel, the winner of the 2010 AWP Award, simply dazzles. Izzy, a math geek, always reliant on "the sweet bounds of cold, clean, reason," now realizes that "my great belief has been in my love for Timmy." Izzy works for a large bank, but she isn't defined by her cubicle. Her connection with Tim shaped her world, soothed her psyche and soul. Now Tim's unexplained suicide, a leap into the abyss without word or note of despair, has unhinged Izzy. The novel is 23 chapters, titled with word-names beginning with letters from "A" to "W." The first is Altamont, the name of the couple's cat, and within it Keifetz delves into the human body falling "at 32-feet-per-second per second," the tenement where the two met and lived, the cat hoarder from whom they pilfered Altamont and a brief biographical sketch of Tim. And so it goes until Izzy arrives at "W," for the Wall, a concrete buttress near her childhood home. All that Izzy believes, all that surrounds her, all that she conjures up in her misery becomes a metaphor for Tim, for their love, for her life without him. Attempting to cope, Izzy plays classic logic games, contemplates William Blake, regards the evolution of megafauna. Sharing her world is Mark, Tim's bar-owner brother, who attempts to draw Izzy from despair, and Dr. Edward "Pudge" Goroguchi, another entomologist, inventor of the flea-breeding artificial dog, and owner of an Izzy-coveted dream car, a 1971 Plymouth Road Runner. Goroguchi becomes Izzy's lover, each of them fulfilling an oblique longing beyond love, despair and sex. The novel takes the reader to the dark place where reason and love collide and collapse under the oppressive weight of loss.

A tour de force.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-936970-04-9

Page Count: 202

Publisher: New Issues

Review Posted Online: Nov. 22, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2011

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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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