A demanding but rewarding religious story.

THE WRONG SIDE OF ETERNITY

A PRESENT-DAY PASSION

This novel, set alternately in Uganda and California, offers a paradigm of struggle between faith and the secular world.

Mendenhall’s (Michael and the Ice Princess, 2011) protagonist is Stephen O’Connell, a Mexican-Irish-American who’s a talented musician and actor. In the 1970s, he finds Christ and enrolls in Scholars Bible College, but it turns out to be a very conservative, rigid, airless place with teachers and students who often seem to hew the letter of the Bible, instead of its spirit. Stephen doesn’t last very long at the school, but during his time there, he does make fast friends, including Bryce Everett and Margaret Whitman, who reappear later in the story. Later, in the 1990s, Stephen and his wife, Julie (along with their son, Sam), are in Uganda as missionaries and AIDS workers. Readers are reminded that back in the 1970s, Uganda, under the rule of Idi Amin, was a place of unspeakable atrocities; in the ’90s, there’s genocide in neighboring Rwanda. As portrayed in this novel, Africa is a beautiful but tragic place, and the O’Connells are right in the thick of what’s happening within it. Other characters in Uganda include school headmaster Geoffrey Mahoro and his niece, Charity Ntambara, who was raped by Amin’s soldiers and bears the spiritual and cultural scars years later. Julie is nearly killed by a religious fanatic, and yet another religious fanatic comes after administrative assistant Madeleine Everett later, back in California. This is a complex book, and even the title itself presents a puzzle and a challenge. That said, the book is well-organized and engagingly written. Its characters are believable throughout, and readers will have sympathy for even the flawed ones (such as Madeleine). Mendenhall is a believer in the Christian faith, but her work doesn’t come across as Pollyannish or polemical. Indeed, there are no easy answers here, and certainly no deus ex machina. The O’Connells are the closest thing to true saints in Mendenhall’s world, but she still succeeds, for the most part, in making them seem human. Even non-believers will find this world engrossing, particularly as it may be one that’s new to them. 

A demanding but rewarding religious story.

Pub Date: July 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5195-0260-5

Page Count: 374

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Dec. 13, 2016

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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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Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

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ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

Doerr presents us with two intricate stories, both of which take place during World War II; late in the novel, inevitably, they intersect.

In August 1944, Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a blind 16-year-old living in the walled port city of Saint-Malo in Brittany and hoping to escape the effects of Allied bombing. D-Day took place two months earlier, and Cherbourg, Caen and Rennes have already been liberated. She’s taken refuge in this city with her great-uncle Etienne, at first a fairly frightening figure to her. Marie-Laure’s father was a locksmith and craftsman who made scale models of cities that Marie-Laure studied so she could travel around on her own. He also crafted clever and intricate boxes, within which treasures could be hidden. Parallel to the story of Marie-Laure we meet Werner and Jutta Pfennig, a brother and sister, both orphans who have been raised in the Children’s House outside Essen, in Germany. Through flashbacks we learn that Werner had been a curious and bright child who developed an obsession with radio transmitters and receivers, both in their infancies during this period. Eventually, Werner goes to a select technical school and then, at 18, into the Wehrmacht, where his technical aptitudes are recognized and he’s put on a team trying to track down illegal radio transmissions. Etienne and Marie-Laure are responsible for some of these transmissions, but Werner is intrigued since what she’s broadcasting is innocent—she shares her passion for Jules Verne by reading aloud 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A further subplot involves Marie-Laure’s father’s having hidden a valuable diamond, one being tracked down by Reinhold von Rumpel, a relentless German sergeant-major.

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4658-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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