An unorthodox but valuable introduction to the youngest of the major Western monotheisms.


Intricately crafted fiction woven from strands of the life of Mohammad, founder of Islam.

Over the past century, many great Western authors have used their writerly skills to fill in gaps in the Judeo–Christian tradition. Thomas Mann retells the story of Genesis’ Joseph in Joseph and His Brothers, Joseph Heller repackages the tales of King David in God Knows and a variety of authors—Robert Graves, Norman Mailer and José Saramago, to name a few—deliver refurbished versions of the gospel narrative. With his debut title, Kartal joins a small group of authors devoted to doing the same for Muslim tradition. The figure of Bahira—or Sergius—is a contested one for both Christians and Muslims: Tradition has it that Sergius, a heterodox Christian monk, was the first man to realize that Mohammad was a true prophet of God. For Muslims, Sergius’ revelation seems to prove that Christianity’s promise is fulfilled by Islam. For Christians, the fact that Sergius recognizes Mohammad’s gifts confirms Christianity’s superiority. These debates, however, are of secondary interest to Kartal, whose gorgeous prose plays out the relationship between the two men in novel form. For Kartal and for the sources on which he relies, Sergius meets Mohammad when the latter is just a young boy. But where others dismiss the child’s shaking spells, Sergius acclaims them signs of the divine presence. Much of what follows is Kartal’s invention, but as such, it is thoroughly engrossing. He writes with wit, concision and no small humor, and, while fictive, the novel is also thoroughly informative. In this excellent piece of religious invention, readers uninformed of the Muslim faith will learn much from the cast of characters surrounding the young prophet, as well as from tales of his youth and young adulthood, his loves and his losses.

An unorthodox but valuable introduction to the youngest of the major Western monotheisms.

Pub Date: Feb. 20, 2012

ISBN: 978-1467950503

Page Count: 362

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: March 23, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2012

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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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