Next book

THE LIFE AND OPINIONS OF ZACHARIAS LICHTER

For students of Iron Curtain–era Eastern European letters, a lost treasure.

A once-subversive, picaresque life of an imagined philosopher who speaks in torrents and trades in absurdity.

Given history, it’s unfortunate that Calinescu, a Romanian novelist who published this book in 1969 and then spent his later years as an expatriate in Indiana, should have decided that his Romanian-German-Jewish protagonist, Zacharias Lichter, be “so ludicrously ugly he produces a strong impression on even the indifferent observer”—and with a “peerless Semitic nose” to boot. Lichter may be hideous and ill-dressed (to convey, Calinescu ventures, the Platonic ideal of poverty), but he is also exuberant and irrepressible, given to waving his hands around wildly while putting the finer points on arguments that are blunt-force weapons. Where Kierkegaard spoke of the elevated triad of the aesthetic, ethical, and religious spheres, for instance, Lichter intones that the proper hierarchy for our day is “circusmadnessperplexity.” That fits because, he adds, all people are clowns, if delayed in their recognition of their essential clownness; moreover, he later holds, “words no longer mean anything,” they “are mere vehicles of a reality beyond signifiers.” Lichter would be as goofy as Vonnegut’s Bokonon, a kind of pastiche Žižek, if Calinescu did not invest in his philosophy a commitment to human freedom, and for this reason it’s easy to see why the book should have been a favorite of Romanian dissidents on its publication in 1969, a dozen or so years after Calinescu began writing the tales of his antiheroical philosopher. Sometimes Calinescu/Lichter is wonderfully prescient, prefiguring Susan Sontag when he writes that in our era “a kind of a debased religion of health, of ‘normality,’ has been created, obsessed with the problem of illness.” Mostly, though, the free-wheeling Lichter, who sometimes delivers his pronouncements in indifferent poetry, lives up to what an acolyte and apprentice of his calls “a pedagogy of beguilement.”

For students of Iron Curtain–era Eastern European letters, a lost treasure.

Pub Date: March 6, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-68137-195-5

Page Count: 168

Publisher: New York Review Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 23, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2018

Next book

THE NIGHTINGALE

Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

Hannah’s new novel is an homage to the extraordinary courage and endurance of Frenchwomen during World War II.

In 1995, an elderly unnamed widow is moving into an Oregon nursing home on the urging of her controlling son, Julien, a surgeon. This trajectory is interrupted when she receives an invitation to return to France to attend a ceremony honoring passeurs: people who aided the escape of others during the war. Cut to spring, 1940: Viann has said goodbye to husband Antoine, who's off to hold the Maginot line against invading Germans. She returns to tending her small farm, Le Jardin, in the Loire Valley, teaching at the local school and coping with daughter Sophie’s adolescent rebellion. Soon, that world is upended: The Germans march into Paris and refugees flee south, overrunning Viann’s land. Her long-estranged younger sister, Isabelle, who has been kicked out of multiple convent schools, is sent to Le Jardin by Julien, their father in Paris, a drunken, decidedly unpaternal Great War veteran. As the depredations increase in the occupied zone—food rationing, systematic looting, and the billeting of a German officer, Capt. Beck, at Le Jardin—Isabelle’s outspokenness is a liability. She joins the Resistance, volunteering for dangerous duty: shepherding downed Allied airmen across the Pyrenees to Spain. Code-named the Nightingale, Isabelle will rescue many before she's captured. Meanwhile, Viann’s journey from passive to active resistance is less dramatic but no less wrenching. Hannah vividly demonstrates how the Nazis, through starvation, intimidation and barbarity both casual and calculated, demoralized the French, engineering a community collapse that enabled the deportations and deaths of more than 70,000 Jews. Hannah’s proven storytelling skills are ideally suited to depicting such cataclysmic events, but her tendency to sentimentalize undermines the gravitas of this tale.

Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

Pub Date: Feb. 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-312-57722-3

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 19, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2014

Awards & Accolades

Likes

  • Readers Vote
  • 26


Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT


  • New York Times Bestseller


  • IndieBound Bestseller

Next book

THE TATTOOIST OF AUSCHWITZ

The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as...

Awards & Accolades

Likes

  • Readers Vote
  • 26


Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT


  • New York Times Bestseller


  • IndieBound Bestseller

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 16, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2018

Close Quickview