This ambitious first novel never comes fully to life.

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UNDERGROUND FUGUE

In the months before the July 7 London bombings in 2005, a woman confronts the death of her son, the impending death of her mother, and her own various prejudices.

When she arrives in London to care for her dying mother, Esther’s life is in shambles. She has left her husband and her job as a museum conservationist; she’s also grieving the death of her son in a swimming accident almost three years earlier. Esther doesn’t know quite what to make of her life now. In London, she meets Javad, her mother’s next-door neighbor, an Iranian transplant to England as well as a neuroscientist. Javad lives with his 19-year-old son, Amir, whom Esther is vaguely suspicious of. Singer’s (The Pale of Settlement, 2007) first novel begins in the months before the July 7 terrorist attacks in London, and it is suffused with the paranoia that overtook much of the non-Muslim Western world after 9/11. Esther, who soon begins seeing Javad, suspects Amir of something she can’t quite name; in fact, the first time she lays eyes on him, at 3 a.m. on his own front stoop, she assumes he’s trying to break in. Singer is a capable storyteller, but these suspicions of Esther’s are hard to sympathize with. Actually, they’re a bit too reminiscent of a certain episode of 30 Rock in which Liz Lemon reports her innocent Middle Eastern neighbors to the authorities—except that Singer lacks Tina Fey’s wry, self-eviscerating humor. When July 7 finally arrives, Esther’s and her mother’s fates are meant to implode with Javad’s and Amir’s, but the various storylines ultimately fail to come together. Singer’s plot is too heavily schematic, her prose too effortful, for the novel to breathe on its own.

This ambitious first novel never comes fully to life.

Pub Date: April 4, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-61219-628-2

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Melville House

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 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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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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