Persuasive evidence that a writer as gifted as Ricci can tackle almost any subject and succeed with it. Better than Mailer,...


The life of Jesus, most recently fictionalized by Norman Mailer and Jim Crace, now imagined by the Italian-born Canadian author of a highly praised autobiographical trilogy (Where She Has Gone, 1998, etc.).

Ricci tells the familiar story in four separate narratives that echo (even as they depart from) the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. The first is that of Yihuda of Qiryat (a.k.a. Judas Iscariot), a member of an underground political movement dedicated to liberating Palestine from Roman occupation—and a self-appointed gadfly who challenges the Nazarene (here named “Yeshua”) frequently and vigorously. Miryam of Migdal (Mary Magdalene) next testifies to Yeshua’s charisma as teacher and leader, and as her lover. Yeshua’s mother Miryam, whose quiet testimony evokes her unconventional son’s meditative and abstracted temperament, also reveals that he is the child of her rape by a Roman military officer. Finally, the shepherd Simon of Gergesa (who has no counterpart in the traditional gospels) offers commentary on the aforementioned conflicting versions, while offering his own skeptical eyewitness account of Yeshua’s crucifixion and resurrection. This complex portrayal of an only-too-human Jesus will undoubtedly offend many, both for its occasional anachronisms (the use of the word “solidarity” in a political context, for instance, seems jarringly contemporary) and for its reductive treatment of what are for many unquestionable miracles. This Jeshua is strictly a healer (for example, he sets bones). Ricci’s Lazarus was not dead, only unconscious. And Yeshua’s “rise” from his tomb was accomplished by followers who bribed the soldiers guarding it. On the other hand, Ricci’s spare, eloquent prose renders Yeshua’s simple determination to deliver his people from foreign oppression, and especially his embattled and agonizing final days, with impressive clarity and power.

Persuasive evidence that a writer as gifted as Ricci can tackle almost any subject and succeed with it. Better than Mailer, not as good as Crace.

Pub Date: May 14, 2003

ISBN: 0-618-27353-0

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2003

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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 17, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2018

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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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