A nonpreachy but twee tone helps a fuzzy fantasy spread the good news of Christian positivity in troubled times.

The Boy Who Walked A Way

Jane lays a thin veneer of sci-fi over a spiritual allegory in her debut novel about a boy war refugee in the future who travels with two extraordinary companions and absorbs tales along with way that illustrate both faith and folly.

This story’s future-speak coins the word “fabutale” as a 22nd-century synonym for “fairy tale”—just what this narrative aspires to be. Earth of the future enjoyed a relatively tranquil century after an international governing body idealistically abolished weapons, downsized polluting industries and technology (especially transportation; walking made a big comeback), and discouraged—without outlawing—organized religious worship. But not everyone cooperated, especially with the part about getting rid of weapons. By 2162, rogue nations have ignited global war. Young Jal Valhyn, a boy in an unprepared society, is left alone after his parents and uncle ominously vanish in military duty. Beckoned by a disembodied voice calling itself Simeon, aka Syntee, Jal embarks on a pastoral footpath in the company of two amazing, seemingly divine messengers: a talking swan named Sammi and a talking butterfly named Bea. While en route to their safe-haven destination, Jal hears parables of places they pass and people they meet. There’s a city-state of arrogant Savants who ruled using pure science, only to become a domed prison with inhabitants frozen in ice; a paranoid population who enclose their boundaries with illusory fire; and people who sacrifice fame, wealth and power to instead serve Syntee (or upper-rank disciples of Syntee) on “missions.” Late in the loose plot, a rather absentee God is mentioned as the “Owner King,” who will ultimately come and heal the suffering planet. In the meantime, Jal is counseled to wait patiently with his new friends. Readers will parse out stand-ins for Jesus, the Holy Ghost and Satan, since metaphors are more pervasive here than in The Shack (2007) or even Jonathan Livingston Seagull. Thankfully, though, sermons cautioning against secularism, cynicism and (possibly) disarmament never get too intense, due to a consistent bedtime-story tone and somewhat cutesy language; characters relish making alliterative phrases and impromptu rhymes. Readers in parts of Kentucky and North Carolina may be extra interested, as the author, a resident of the region, borrowed the Blue Ridge terrain for the landscape of her little pilgrim’s progress.

A nonpreachy but twee tone helps a fuzzy fantasy spread the good news of Christian positivity in troubled times.

Pub Date: March 3, 2013

ISBN: 978-1479139071

Page Count: 240

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: June 4, 2013

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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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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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