To be read and savored before it’s ruined as a movie.

THE PIECES FROM BERLIN

An ancient antiquarian in Zurich is held accountable at the end of her life for the wicked tactics she used to survive and prosper in wartime Berlin.

Novelist, historian, and journalist Pye (Taking Lives, 1999, etc.) does slow, relentless, and at last great justice to this fact-based story of greed, theft, and betrayal and the glamorous Milanese woman around whom it’s all spun. Opening with a funeral in the chill of present-day Switzerland, Pye sets out the wanderings and musings of Nicholas Müller-Rossi, whose estranged father has just died. Unwelcomed by his half-family, Nicholas, a retired academician, nevertheless attends the rite, remembering his Swiss father’s brief closeness before the war and how the restlessness of his mother Lucia, an Italian, separated them forever. Lucia lives on. Now in her 90s, she presides over her shop of luxurious antiques and art objects, a respected if not loved pillar of the mercantile community. Her rotten business and moral underpinnings are, however, about to be exposed. Nicholas’s daughter Helen encounters an elderly woman in tears in front of Lucia’s elegant shop. It’s Sarah Freeman, whom Lucia knew and betrayed as Sarah Lindemann: the immensely pretty and valuable marquetry table in the window was stolen from Sarah in the last furious days of the Reich. Helen’s attempts to pry the story out of the bitterly reticent Sarah ultimately involve her father Nicholas and also Peter Clarke, another wartime survivor with a bitter story. Her efforts further involve the local legal machinery, and what emerges is the truth of Lucia’s life as a demimondaine in Hitler’s capital, along with all the details of how she came into possession, if not ownership, of a fortune in art and antiques, spirited her loot out of Germany, and set up a life for herself and the schoolboy son who saw but did not yet understand all she did. Did she do any of it for Nicholas? Or was it all for Lucia? Is justice still achievable? Or desirable?

To be read and savored before it’s ruined as a movie.

Pub Date: Feb. 28, 2003

ISBN: 0-375-41436-3

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2002

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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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