Stylish, sincere tales that go to dark, sometimes-uncomfortable places.


Jerusalem Ablaze


In Ortega-Medina’s debut short story collection, characters are consumed by their fascinations with sex, death, and inescapable fate.

The unnamed Japanese narrator in the opening story, “Torture by Roses,” takes a job working for millionaire Ikeda Yataro in Tokyo. All he has to do to become Ikeda’s heir is deliver meals and correspondence. But what Ikeda takes from the narrator is far greater: he wants to teach him how to hate, which would, for starters, entail calling off his engagement with his fiancee. The narrator, who’s told to ask no questions, is a prisoner of sorts, which makes him akin to other characters throughout the book. In “Cactuses,” for example, an aspiring writer meets an older, well-known author who’s resigned to his inevitable, imminent death: “I just know,” he tells the young man, that it will happen soon. In “Star Party,” a man named Isaac is granted temporary asylum in the United States and can’t leave the country until his case is decided, and in “And a Little Child Shall Lead Them,” Sadie Hunter, a battered woman, gets no help from her mother or a priest. Ortega-Medina’s tales are predominantly somber and often dabble in the macabre, as when lonely Susan Foltz, in “After the Storm,” finds a dead body on the beach and drags it back to her lighthouse home. In “Invitation to the Dominant Culture,” a man named Guillermo Fausto Perez III discovers sex as well as a disturbing, kinky side of his personality. There’s definitely poignancy in these stories, however, as characters search for identity, be it religious or sexual; for example, Marc Sadot, in the two-part story “An Israel State of Mind,” hopes that his Israel trip will help him in “ridding himself” of his desires, but instead it reunites him with the man he loves. The surprisingly amusing “The Shovelist” is a bright spot among gloomier themes, as new neighbors Jake and Ronny find it difficult to say no to elderly Guillaume’s offer to be their snow-shoveler. Ortega-Medina’s prose is elegant and potent throughout, with visceral passages bathed in lyricism: “Down below, the ocean continued to vomit forth waves of foam and debris on to the beach.”

Stylish, sincere tales that go to dark, sometimes-uncomfortable places.

Pub Date: Jan. 26, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-5262-0253-6

Page Count: 180

Publisher: Cloud Lodge Books

Review Posted Online: July 29, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2016

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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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Though gripping, even moving at times, the novel doesn’t do justice to the solemn history from which it is drawn.


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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