MORE CHURCH FOLK

Good and evil do battle again in this folksy follow-up to an Essence magazine bestseller.

The Southern-based Gospel United Church is in trouble again. The African-American church has thrived since its introduction in Church Folk (2001), but as it has spread across the United States and Africa, corruption has followed. The good Reverend Theophilus Simmons now heads up a congregation in St. Louis, where in addition to his own crew of colorful sinners, he must also plan for an upcoming conference. That conference should allow the righteous folk the chance to rein in some errant bishops. But Simmons and company may not be prepared to deal with thieving church officials who want to peddle an African Viagra-like, watermelon-based medicine stateside, using the international church as cover. Bowen (Up at the College, 2009, etc.) never leaves her readers in doubt that the godly will triumph and order will be restored, but she could have had more fun along the way. Although she lays on the colloquial language, making even her educated characters sound like stereotypes, she falls flat when it comes to description. Good is explained simply as being obedient and really meaning it, with more than one church-going character described as lax: “even though she technically qualified for salvation, she never went farther than getting saved.” Evil is much more fun, consisting of sex and drugs and corruption. But even that is anemically depicted, with tired sexual clichés for when the watermelon drug, used to boast energy and prowess, wears off, leaving men feeling “like a plop of poop.” Since these salacious scenes are probably the real draw, couched as they are in avowedly moral storytelling, the slathering on of adjectives might work for those who limit themselves to strictly Christian fiction. However, that appeal is limited. Figure in the loss of the hometown camaraderie that made the first Memphis-based book a success, and it's hard to see how this simplistic morality tale will sell.

 

Pub Date: July 28, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-446-57776-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: June 2, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2010

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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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