An emotionally wrenching account of the battle between wounded reticence and a desire for truth.


A Jewish ghostwriter for Holocaust survivors becomes haunted by her mother’s silence regarding her own family’s experiences during World War II in this novel.

Isabel Toledo grew up in New York City but relocated to Israel, chasing her obsession with providing written testimony on the behalf of survivors of the horrors of the Holocaust. She’s been at this work for 20 years, relentlessly tackling the tempests of the past. But she’s become cumulatively depleted and is encouraged by many to give up what her mother, Suri, calls a “morbid preoccupation.” Yet she can’t let go: “Twenty years of slipping into survivors’ lives, a warm body between cold sheets, was taking its toll on her. And that mortified her. How dare she complain of hardship?” What Isabel really pines for is to unlock Suri’s “badly sealed pain.” Suri never discusses her experiences during the war, though Isabel has managed to cull meager scraps of information. Suri’s mother, Bella, died in Ukraine while Suri survived somewhere in Siberia. For Isabel, a professional archaeologist of buried secrets, her mother’s silence is profoundly exasperating. David, her often absentee father, has been dead for years and was also intensely private, a historical abyss as well. Meanwhile, Isabel turns to sex to “ground down the pain” of her family’s inadequacies, in particular her mother’s “detachment.” Isabel has an “official boyfriend,” Emanuel, though their relationship has grown stagnant, and two younger paramours on the side. But even her sex life is tinged with the darkness of her monomaniacal interest in the Holocaust, with her predilections depicted with unsettling artistry by Sivan (SNAFU and Other Stories, 2014). The author deftly conjures an atmosphere of formidable inscrutability—Suri’s pain is all the more palpable since it’s unshared. The author’s story is crackling with authentic life—her characters are full and deep, brimming with pathos and eccentricity. And while the traumatic legacy of the Holocaust is well-traversed terrain, Sivan forges a refreshingly original path of her own.

An emotionally wrenching account of the battle between wounded reticence and a desire for truth.

Pub Date: April 9, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-944453-08-4

Page Count: 232

Publisher: Cuidono Press

Review Posted Online: May 14, 2019

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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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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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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 16, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2018

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