WHAT WE TALK ABOUT WHEN WE TALK ABOUT ANNE FRANK

STORIES

Parables of emotional complexity and moral ambiguity, with lessons that are neither easy nor obvious, by a short-story master (For the Relief of Unbearable Urges, 1999, etc.). 

The title story that opens the collection (evoking in its title both the Holocaust and Raymond Carver) is like so much of the best of the author’s narratives, with a voice that evokes a long legacy of Jewish storytelling and the sharp edge of contemporary fiction. It presents the reunion of two women who had been best friends as girls but who have married very different men and seen their lives take very different paths. One is now living an “ultra-Orthodox” family life in Israel, with a husband who insists that “intermarriage...is the Holocaust that is happening now.” The other lives in South Florida and has married a more secular Jew, who narrates the story and whose voice initially invites the reader’s identification. Yet a change in perspective occurs over the course of the visit, both for the reader and the narrator: “It is the most glorious, and silliest, and freest I can remember feeling in years. Who would think that’s what I would be saying with these strict, suffocatingly austere people come to visit our house.” Every one of these eight stories casts light on the others, but perhaps the most revelatory is “Everything I Know About My Family on My Mother’s Side,” in which a writer named Nathan, described as “completely secular” and called “an apostate” by his older brother, insists that this story is “true...Not true in the way fiction is truer than truth. True in both realms.” It’s the story of how a family stays together and a relationship falls apart, told in 63 numbered sections of a paragraph or two. Like so much of this volume, it seems to exist in a literary sphere beyond the one in which the ambitions of postmodern fiction have little to do with the depths of existence beyond the page. 

 The author at his best.

Pub Date: Feb. 15, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-307-95870-9

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Dec. 13, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2012

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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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