A historically provocative and dramatically riveting tale.

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THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO . . .

A FICTIONAL STORY OF THE PEOPLE WHO ENCOUNTERED JESUS

A debut novel offers a literary reimagining of Jesus’ life and ministry from the perspectives of those who encounter him.

Darmud has no pretensions about his moral standing: “I knew I was a worm.” An incorrigible womanizer beset by greed, he establishes a prostitution ring in Alexandria, but his Uncle Alexander Lysimachus exiles Darmud when he discovers it. Alexander sends his nephew to Jerusalem to work for his friend Eleizer, a Pharisee and member of the powerful Sanhedrin. Eleizer tasks Darmud with vigilantly following Jesus, the “upstart Jewish teacher who thinks he’s a prophet.” The Sanhedrin fear that Jesus’ mounting popularity will be interpreted by the Roman authorities as the beginnings of a political insurgency and that they will tighten their control of the Jewish State as a result. Meanwhile, Mariamme of Sepphoris, a traveling tradeswoman, is falsely accused of adultery and dragged out into the streets of Jerusalem to be stoned to death. But Jesus intervenes and prevents the mob from satisfying its lust for violent punishment. She meets Darmud in Magdala, and the two become romantically involved, but he’s only interested in her as an instrument of carnal satisfaction and a potential source of information regarding Jesus. Later on, encouraged by her friend Nainah and servant, Amos, she attends some of Jesus’ sermons and becomes a devoted follower. But Judas Iscariot objects to her proximity to Jesus, especially after hearing the lascivious rumors Darmud spreads about her in an effort to sully her reputation. Harris chronicles Jesus’ ministry up until his resurrection, shifting deftly from one first-person narration to the next. Readers are treated to the impressions of a slave, a blind man granted his sight by Jesus, and notable biblical figures like Judas and Pontius Pilate, among others. The author’s dramatic interpretation of the New Testament is meticulously faithful to the historical record but also artistically inventive. She has a gift for the nuanced construction (and reconstruction) of authentic characters. Harris delicately depicts Judas’ internal struggle on the way to his betrayal of Jesus and the profound remorse he experiences when he realizes precisely what he’s engineered: “My heart stopped beating. At that moment I saw what would happen, and what I had done. I had brought it about. My cursed desire to please everyone, and to be everyone’s darling, my pride, my self-imposed isolation, my intellectual arrogance, my touchy dignity.” Darmud, too, is intriguingly cynical—while some see a savior in Jesus, he only perceives an “enigmatic, misleading, and slippery” con man, and he’s incapable of thinking otherwise: “I was out to find a sinister motive in Jesus and by damn I was going to find one.” The author allows herself some fantastical literary devices, which are powerfully employed, like the personification of fear and the “Powers of Darkness.” The entire novel reads like an espionage thriller and manages to unfurl with crackling suspense despite the conclusion’s being historically foregone. This is an exceedingly intelligent re-creation of a story so familiar such an authorial feat should not be possible. 

A historically provocative and dramatically riveting tale. 

Pub Date: Oct. 27, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4808-0991-8

Page Count: 244

Publisher: Archway Publishing

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2019

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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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A unique story about Appalachia and the healing power of the written word.

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THE BOOK WOMAN OF TROUBLESOME CREEK

One of Kentucky’s last living “Blue People” works as a traveling librarian in 1930s Appalachia.

Cussy Mary Carter is a 19-year-old from Troublesome Creek, Kentucky. She was born with a rare genetic condition, and her skin has always been tinged an allover deep blue. Cussy lives with her widowed father, a coal miner who relentlessly attempts to marry her off. Unfortunately, with blue skin and questionable genetics, Cussy is a tough sell. Cussy would rather keep her job as a pack-horse librarian than keep house for a husband anyway. As part of the new governmental program aimed at bringing reading material to isolated rural Kentuckians, Cussy rides a mule over treacherous terrain, delivering books and periodicals to people of limited means. Cussy’s patrons refer to her as “Bluet” or “Book Woman,” and she delights in bringing them books as well as messages, medicine, and advice. When a local pastor takes a nefarious interest in Cussy, claiming that God has sent him to rid society of her “blue demons,” efforts to defend herself leave Cussy at risk of arrest, or worse. The local doctor agrees to protect Cussy in exchange for her submission to medical testing. As Doc finds answers about Cussy’s condition, she begins to re-examine what it means to be a Blue and what life after a cure might look like. Although the novel gets off to a slow start, once Cussy begins traveling to the city for medical testing, the stakes get higher, as does the suspense of the story. Cussy's first-person narrative voice is engaging, laced with a thick Kentucky accent and colloquialisms of Depression-era Appalachia. Through the bigotry and discrimination Cussy suffers as a result of her skin color, the author artfully depicts the insidious behavior that can result when a society’s members feel threatened by things they don't understand. With a focus on the personal joy and broadened horizons that can result from access to reading material, this well-researched tale serves as a solid history lesson on 1930s Kentucky.

A unique story about Appalachia and the healing power of the written word.

Pub Date: May 7, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4926-7152-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark

Review Posted Online: Feb. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2019

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