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

MAKE IT CONCRETE

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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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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A not-very-illuminating updating of Chaucer’s Tales.

THE CANTERBURY TALES

A RETELLING

Continuing his apparent mission to refract the whole of English culture and history through his personal lens, Ackroyd (Thames: The Biography, 2008, etc.) offers an all-prose rendering of Chaucer’s mixed-media masterpiece.

While Burton Raffel’s modern English version of The Canterbury Tales (2008) was unabridged, Ackroyd omits both “The Tale of Melibee” and “The Parson’s Tale” on the undoubtedly correct assumption that these “standard narratives of pious exposition” hold little interest for contemporary readers. Dialing down the piety, the author dials up the raunch, freely tossing about the F-bomb and Anglo-Saxon words for various body parts that Chaucer prudently described in Latin. Since “The Wife of Bath’s Tale” and “The Miller’s Tale,” for example, are both decidedly earthy in Middle English, the interpolated obscenities seem unnecessary as well as jarringly anachronistic. And it’s anyone’s guess why Ackroyd feels obliged redundantly to include the original titles (“Here bigynneth the Squieres Tales,” etc.) directly underneath the new ones (“The Squires Tale,” etc.); these one-line blasts of antique spelling and diction remind us what we’re missing without adding anything in the way of comprehension. The author’s other peculiar choice is to occasionally interject first-person comments by the narrator where none exist in the original, such as, “He asked me about myself then—where I had come from, where I had been—but I quickly turned the conversation to another course.” There seems to be no reason for these arbitrary elaborations, which muffle the impact of those rare times in the original when Chaucer directly addresses the reader. Such quibbles would perhaps be unfair if Ackroyd were retelling some obscure gem of Old English, but they loom larger with Chaucer because there are many modern versions of The Canterbury Tales. Raffel’s rendering captured a lot more of the poetry, while doing as good a job as Ackroyd with the vigorous prose.

A not-very-illuminating updating of Chaucer’s Tales.

Pub Date: Nov. 16, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-670-02122-2

Page Count: 436

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2009

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