A comic novel in which humorous theological interpretations favor flippancy over derision.

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CONFUNDO ET TRANSFIGURO

OF DREAMS, HUNGER, THE HUNT…AND VAMPIRES

Mortal beings on a spiritual journey encounter a motley assortment of characters in Aunsoo’s debut farce that sends up various religions.

Amma the Many Breasted Goddess is the Creator of All That Is. She gives free will to her children, who, like Amma herself, often roam the Earth. Though the goddess loves the Humans—she capitalizes their name—she created, she notes that they were “annoying and willful right from the start” and creates the Moroli to keep them under control. The Moroli are also mortal but otherwise superior to Humans. They consume blood and regularly hunt Human virgins. But Volod, a Moroli who begins questioning the Moroli Way, goes on a journey of transformation—to be reborn as Human. Along with his male companion and sometime lover, Aurel, and, later, Mimir, an elderly woman, Volod floats down the Kutsal and Lethe rivers. The three voyagers come across a medley of people, from a false prophet to a possibly deranged author. Meanwhile, Britney, a female Human who’s “bewitched” with “Sexual Hunger,” pursues Volod and Aurel, having witnessed them sucking blood and believing they’re “vampire boys” aiming to turn her into one of their kind. Volod is wary of the seemingly crazed Britney and hopes to steer clear of her until he finds Amma, who will complete his transformation. This quirky satire entails religious imagery such as that of cattle, which some beliefs hold sacred, and a variation on the story of Adam and Eve. But Aunsoo doesn’t single out one religion for ridicule over others and maintains a steady supply of absurdity. The novel comprises three “Testaments,” focusing on Amma, the genesis of the Moroli, and, for the bulk of the story, Volod’s spiritual journey. While the narrative includes the English translation of ancient cuneiform tablets discovered in Iraq, there are also more contemporary references. These are typically silly, including the use of relatively modern slang (“kick-ass weed” or “you’re freaking me out”) and of pop culture such as the song “Singin’ in the Rain” and a particularly funny Star Wars joke.

A comic novel in which humorous theological interpretations favor flippancy over derision.

Pub Date: Feb. 23, 2020

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 201

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: March 4, 2020

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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 sadly slapdash World War II adventure.

THE LOST GIRLS OF PARIS

Fictional account of the unsung women operatives who helped pave the way for D-Day.

Jenoff’s (The Orphan's Tale, 2017, etc.) latest alternates between postwar America and war-torn Europe. The novel opens in 1946 as Grace, whose soldier husband died in an accident, is trying to reinvent herself in New York City. In Grand Central terminal she stumbles upon an abandoned suitcase, wherein she discovers several photos of young women. Soon, she learns that the suitcase’s owner, Eleanor, recently arrived from London, has been killed by a car. Flashback to 1943: Eleanor, assistant to the Director of Britain’s Special Operations Executive, suggests sending women agents to France to transmit radio intelligence on Nazi movements in aid of the Resistance and the coming Allied invasion. Women, she points out, are less conspicuous masquerading as civilians than men. A native speaker of French, Marie is an ideal candidate. After rigorous training, she is dropped into an area north of Paris, with scant instructions other than to send wireless transmissions as directed by her handler, Julian, code-named Vesper. For reasons not adequately fleshed out, Grace feels compelled to learn more about the women pictured and their connection with Eleanor. With the help of her late husband’s best friend, Mark, a burgeoning love interest, Grace accesses SOE records in Washington, D.C., only to find puzzling evidence that Eleanor may have betrayed her own agents. We hardly see Marie in action as a radio operator; we know of her transmissions from France mainly through Eleanor, the recipient, who immediately suspects something is off—but her superiors ignore her warnings. In any spy thriller clear timelines are essential: Jenoff’s wartime chronology is blurred by overly general date headings (e.g., London, 1944) and confusing continuity. Sparsely punctuated by shocking brutality and defiant bravery, the narrative is, for the most part, flabby and devoid of tension. Overall, this effort seems rushed, and the sloppy language does nothing to dispel that impression.

A sadly slapdash World War II adventure.

Pub Date: Feb. 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-7783-3027-1

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Park Row Books

Review Posted Online: Nov. 13, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2018

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