THE MITT MAN

Feverishly overwritten and densely plotted but nonetheless strongly compelling African-American southern gothic of a cardsharp whose scams against friends and foes become a metaphor for the paradoxical nature of religious faith. Born around 1900 into a poor farming family on the outskirts of New Orleans, James Cook runs away from home when he sees his father fatally beaten by a white sheriff who had designs on Cook’s mother. Though well-schooled in the Bible, the boy can—t accept a world in which God seems to permit black people to be savaged. And so he flees to the city, where he soon becomes the King Fish—a pimp, a pickpocket, a true ’slickster— like his hustler uncle Ed. While visiting the black shantytown of Gator Creek, he falls for the innocent affections of Sue Ellen, who not only marries him but follows him into a life of petty crime, then leaves him when he won’t have a family with her. King Fish next begins trafficking with the mad Reverend Malcom Cage, a wealthy white fundamentalist preacher whose missionary work often serves to swindle disaffected blacks. As a preacher, he learns both sides of the scam but yearns for a better life among Harlem’s swank cats. A return to his hustling ways lands him in prison, though, where he discovers that, even if he doesn’t believe in God, he has the power to redeem others. Once out of the slammer, King Fish makes his way to Harlem, then undergoing its famed renaissance. There, he meets Jimmie Lamar, the story’s narrator, who, despite a few wayward tendencies, feels that God has handed him a charmed life. He and King Fish try (optimistically) to defraud a wealthy French countess, but the scheme goes sour and Lamar loses the woman he loves—along with his ability to preach. Discursive, overly complex, but, despite occasionally cumbersome prose, a debut that makes a moving statement about redemption and loss.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-688-16094-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 1998

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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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ONE DAY IN THE LIFE OF IVAN DENISOVICH

While a few weeks ago it seemed as if Praeger would have a two month lead over Dutton in their presentation of this Soviet best seller, both the "authorized" edition (Dutton's) and the "unauthorized" (Praeger's) will appear almost simultaneously. There has been considerable advance attention on what appears to be as much of a publishing cause celebre here as the original appearance of the book in Russia. Without entering into the scrimmage, or dismissing it as a plague on both your houses, we will limit ourselves to a few facts. Royalties from the "unauthorized" edition will go to the International Rescue Committee; Dutton with their contracted edition is adhering to copyright conventions. The Praeger edition has two translators and one of them is the translator of Doctor Zhivago Dutton's translator, Ralph Parker, has been stigmatized by Praeger as "an apologist for the Soviet regime". To the untutored eye, the Dutton translation seems a little more literary, the Praeger perhaps closer to the rather primitive style of the original. The book itself is an account of one day in the three thousand six hundred and fifty three days of the sentence to be served by a carpenter, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. (Solzhenitsyn was a political prisoner.) From the unrelenting cold without, to the conditions within, from the bathhouse to the latrine to the cells where survival for more than two weeks is impossible, this records the hopeless facts of existence as faced by thousands who went on "living like this, with your eyes on the ground". The Dutton edition has an excellent introduction providing an orientation on the political background to its appearance in Russia by Marvin Kalb. All involved in its publication (translators, introducers, etc.) claim for it great "artistic" values which we cannot share, although there is no question of its importance as a political and human document and as significant and tangible evidence of the de-Stalinization program.

Pub Date: June 15, 1963

ISBN: 0451228146

Page Count: 181

Publisher: Praeger

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1963

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