A school of minnow-sized tours de force, just morsels, really, at times airy and light, at others leaving behind the...

PICNIC GROUNDS

A NOVEL IN FRAGMENTS

Journalist Oz, born in Israel and living now in New York, offers a little slip of a book that indeed has insight and charm but doesn’t reach the cumulative power suggested in its subtitle.

Here are many short takes, miniature narratives that seldom reach a second page, usually don’t fill one, often are scarcely paragraphs. The resultant voice is cool, dispassionate, and certainly modernist—a voice in keeping with the theme that runs throughout and is introduced in the very first piece (“One Afternoon”), about an Israeli history professor who takes his family on a picnic in an effort simply to be “outside history.” At the beach, in “Hanthalah,” some people meet an “old Bedouin waiter” and hope to hear “authentic stories” from him, but “not about history, from which we, as Israelis, had fled south.” And yet such escape is impossible, of course, and history haunts the tales. In “Tea Outdoors,” members of a youth movement “taste the land” by making tea from wild stalks: “They drank carefully, in little sips, like ghosts that haunt the soil, which is soaked with blood, where vines stretch out over ruins . . . of the farmers we drove away.” Other moments are lighter, some more intriguing fictionally than others—as in the case of a paragraph (“Tel-Avivians in Jerusalem”) about how Jerusalemites’ deep sense of the mazelike complexity of their city leads them to “help” others get more deeply lost in it when they ask directions for getting out. Some of Oz’s efforts fall flat—like “A Short Story,” when a professor declares that novels belong in the 19th century and not after, but others, finding their tone, touch their targets perfectly (albeit also lightly)—as in a perfect piece, hardly longer than a breath (“Nostalgic”), about the power of desire for a past that may or may not have existed.

A school of minnow-sized tours de force, just morsels, really, at times airy and light, at others leaving behind the aftertaste of broken hearts.

Pub Date: April 15, 2003

ISBN: 0-87286-419-7

Page Count: 122

Publisher: City Lights

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2003

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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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ANIMAL FARM

A FAIRY STORY

A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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