Sincere but long-winded, Brafman’s story cycles through a limited range of emotional chords, to numbing effect.

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WASHING THE DEAD

After decades spent suppressing sad and angry feelings toward her mother for adultery and the destruction of her childhood happiness, it’s time for anguished Barbara Blumfield to make peace with her parent and herself.

The pendulum swings, slowly, from toxic rage and instability to all-embracing forgiveness in Brafman’s debut, a three-generational mother-to-daughter family portrait that almost loses itself in a vortex of introspection. Although now in her 50s, with a husband, successful teaching job, and daughter of her own, Barbara has never been able to confront or forgive her mother, June Pupnick, for her affair with the “Shabbos goy” in their Orthodox Jewish community in Milwaukee. “My mother torched my home, my shul,” Barbara mourns, full of emotional discomfort, guilt for keeping her mother’s secrets, and skepticism that she can be a good-enough parent to her own daughter, Lili. Brafman’s sober, earnest novel mines this sensitive territory obsessively, focusing on Barbara’s yearnings and undigested feelings to the exclusion of almost everything else. Crosscutting between the 1970s and 2009, the narrative juxtaposes the crises of the past—June's transgressions, a child care episode in California that ended badly, a breakdown—with the problems of today, which mainly involve Lili. Barbara’s coping mechanisms start to fail in the face of the reappearances of the compassionate rebbetzin (rabbi’s wife) of her childhood and also of her mother, newly restored to town by Barbara’s brother after her diagnosis of Alzheimer’s. And there’s more, with Brafman ratcheting up the pressure until a very late shift in perspective that, enhanced by an intervention from Lili, allows ill feelings to be swept away in a tide of comprehension and compassion.

Sincere but long-winded, Brafman’s story cycles through a limited range of emotional chords, to numbing effect.

Pub Date: April 14, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-938849-51-0

Page Count: 280

Publisher: Prospect Park Books

Review Posted Online: Feb. 15, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2015

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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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THE SCREWTAPE LETTERS

These letters from some important executive Down Below, to one of the junior devils here on earth, whose job is to corrupt mortals, are witty and written in a breezy style seldom found in religious literature. The author quotes Luther, who said: "The best way to drive out the devil, if he will not yield to texts of Scripture, is to jeer and flout him, for he cannot bear scorn." This the author does most successfully, for by presenting some of our modern and not-so-modern beliefs as emanating from the devil's headquarters, he succeeds in making his reader feel like an ass for ever having believed in such ideas. This kind of presentation gives the author a tremendous advantage over the reader, however, for the more timid reader may feel a sense of guilt after putting down this book. It is a clever book, and for the clever reader, rather than the too-earnest soul.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1942

ISBN: 0060652934

Page Count: 53

Publisher: Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Oct. 17, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1943

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