Finely textured character development almost compensates for a depressing tale.

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THE DEATH OF BASEBALL

A psychological novel explores two young men whose lives intersect in Los Angeles chaotically, emotionally, sexually, and violently.

In the book’s opening section, readers meet Clyde Koba, a second-generation Japanese-American and the narrator of the first part of this tale. It is 1973, and he is about to celebrate his 11th birthday. Before the night is over, his father comes home, abusively drunk as usual. Clyde tries to hide and winds up accidentally stepping on his beloved cat, breaking the feline’s back and killing him. Eventually, Clyde begins to display a violent streak, and his issues with sexual identity grow more overt. He becomes obsessed with Marilyn Monroe’s photographs and biography, convinced her spirit has been reincarnated in his body. Then the story takes on a third-person narrator and moves to another part of town, where 16-year-old Raphael Dweck has decided he is finished with his court-mandated psychotherapy. Three years ago, Raphael, a kleptomaniac, stole the silver breastplate of the Torah he had been studying for his bar mitzvah. Born in Israel, the Orthodox, observant Raphael immigrated to Los Angeles with his family eight years ago. But now his parents and rabbi decide the teen must find salvation by returning to Israel and living with a despised aunt. Ortega-Medina’s (Jerusalem Ablaze, 2017) graphic prose is vivid, especially when describing the Israeli desert: “The orb of the sun spits out swirls of colour as it dips westward, painting the purpling sky with reds and oranges, and splashing the edges of the crater with an ever-changing palette. Raphael…sketches furiously, trying to capture something of the devolving landscape as the colours intensify, and a warm wind kicks up from the desert floor.” The author’s deft construction of this complex plot reflects his experience in creating short stories. He concentrates first on Clyde, then on Raphael. Finally, the tale jumps ahead to 1982, several years after Raphael (now Ralph) returned to California. The two men’s paths become intertwined as they form a quirky, symbiotic relationship. Ralph, still searching for God, is the more manipulative of these two psychologically fragile, fully developed characters. Clyde, now cross-dressing as Monroe, is the more explosive and physically dangerous one. Ralph tells Clyde: “We’re all messed up, in one way or another. Every one of us. Damaged goods.” That could be this dark, disturbing novel’s subtitle.

Finely textured character development almost compensates for a depressing tale.

Pub Date: June 21, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-999-5873-5-2

Page Count: 475

Publisher: Cloud Lodge Books

Review Posted Online: Feb. 25, 2019

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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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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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