An ambitious, readable tale about a fictional Jesus and a religious scholar who tries to understand the Nazarene’s mission.

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NAZARENE DREAM

A TRUE LEGEND

A debut historical novel reimagines the story of Jesus.

Vadok offers two parallel narratives separated by a generation, echoing each other throughout the book. One follows the life of a young man named Joshua, son of Mary and Joseph, who becomes a charismatic preacher in the Jerusalem area in the first decades of direct Roman rule. The other unfolds 40 years later in the embattled Christian community of Syrian Antioch, where a rabbi named Ariel, who was taught Christianity by St. Paul, finds himself confronted by the doubts and criticisms of the members of his congregation. They have lost their assurance that there’s any truth in the promises of Joshua and newborn Christianity. “I grieve for all those who’ve lost faith, for those who deny you and say you’ll never return,” Ariel confesses in prayer. “Those who dare say that you were wrong and cannot, or will not, come to vindicate the righteous of this sorry world.” In the author’s handling, it isn’t only Ariel’s friends and parishioners who undermine his faith—it’s also his parallel story, since the figure he prays to is a decidedly different character than the one Christians encounter in the New Testament. Joshua is a normal, flesh-and-blood man, a fan of the noncanonical Books of Enoch and an acolyte of John the Baptist. He may medically assess the state of some wretch’s leprosy, for instance, but he can’t cure it. Even the demons he exorcises may in reality be trauma resulting from sexual abuse.  It isn’t long before Ariel is “drowning in a sea of scripture,” writing his own book about the life and teachings of Joshua. The biggest risk in the framework of Vadok’s novel is likewise its greatest weakness: Its two narratives are unevenly captivating. Ariel is a likable figure, but 50 of him couldn’t match the elemental fascination of the Jesus character. The author shores up Ariel’s plotlines by stressing the upheavals of his time, the increasing oppression of Roman forces, the destruction of the great Temple of Jerusalem, and so on. The cynicism arising in the wake of Israel’s war with the Romans is the source of the discontent Ariel’s followers feel toward the Jesus story, and the period research Vadok has obviously done makes these sections feel realistically constructed. In this respect, the work will remind readers of other historical reconstructions of the New Testament such as Man of Nazareth by Anthony Burgess and King Jesus by Robert Graves. “I’m Rabbi Joshua of Nazareth. My companions here are my disciples,” Joshua says at one point. “We travel around to inform people that the time predicted by the prophets has arrived.” Vadok sprinkles his text with modern language (including obscenities), which helps both narratives to read more smoothly. And the interconnectedness of the two strains grows increasingly and pleasingly complex as the book progresses. This novel is an intriguing entry in the genre of Jesus fiction.

An ambitious, readable tale about a fictional Jesus and a religious scholar who tries to understand the Nazarene’s mission.

Pub Date: April 3, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-5246-8460-0

Page Count: 384

Publisher: AuthorHouse

Review Posted Online: June 21, 2019

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Though gripping, even moving at times, the novel doesn’t do justice to the solemn history from which it is drawn.

CILKA'S JOURNEY

In this follow-up to the widely read The Tattooist of Auschwitz (2018), a young concentration camp survivor is sentenced to 15 years’ hard labor in a Russian gulag.

The novel begins with the liberation of Auschwitz by Soviet troops in 1945. In the camp, 16-year-old Cecilia "Cilka" Klein—one of the Jewish prisoners introduced in Tattooist—was forced to become the mistress of two Nazi commandants. The Russians accuse her of collaborating—they also think she might be a spy—and send her to the Vorkuta Gulag in Siberia. There, another nightmarish scenario unfolds: Cilka, now 18, and the other women in her hut are routinely raped at night by criminal-class prisoners with special “privileges”; by day, the near-starving women haul coal from the local mines in frigid weather. The narrative is intercut with Cilka’s grim memories of Auschwitz as well as her happier recollections of life with her parents and sister before the war. At Vorkuta, her lot improves when she starts work as a nurse trainee at the camp hospital under the supervision of a sympathetic woman doctor who tries to protect her. Cilka also begins to feel the stirrings of romantic love for Alexandr, a fellow prisoner. Though believing she is cursed, Cilka shows great courage and fortitude throughout: Indeed, her ability to endure trauma—as well her heroism in ministering to the sick and wounded—almost defies credulity. The novel is ostensibly based on a true story, but a central element in the book—Cilka’s sexual relationship with the SS officers—has been challenged by the Auschwitz Memorial Research Center and by the real Cilka’s stepson, who says it is false. As in Tattooist, the writing itself is workmanlike at best and often overwrought.

Though gripping, even moving at times, the novel doesn’t do justice to the solemn history from which it is drawn.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-26570-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 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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