As melodramatic and stagy as any opera, but without the compensations of music and singers.


Cohen’s debut takes a popular Victorian theme—destitute young woman rescued by older man with rakish past—and tweaks it for current preoccupations, adding pedophilia and anti-Semitism to a story that’s more sensational melodrama than romance.

Set in the early 1890s, the tale has trademark Wharton details—Mrs. Astor is still giving parties; money as much as love is the stuff of gossip, and reputations can be destroyed by the smallest indiscretion—but, like the décor in present-day theme restaurants, these seem contrived and artificial. All begins as Mario Alfieri, a famous Italian tenor, arrives to make his debut at the Metropolitan Opera. In his 40s and unmarried, Mario is a noted womanizer. Wanting some privacy, he decides to rent a house and is shown one facing Gramercy Park. The property of the recently deceased Henry Slade, it’s just what he wants—but then, exploring, he encounters, hidden in the music room, a sickly looking girl. Sensing her underlying beauty, Mario is instantly smitten. The girl is 20-year old Clara Adler, the mysterious Jewish ward of the late Mr. Slade and thought to be his heir until his will revealed otherwise. Naturally, Mario, who decides he wants to marry Clara, has to contend with a wicked and wily adversary: Slade’s lawyer, the sinister Thaddeus Chadwick, with his own dastardly plans for Clara. Though Mario whisks Clara away from the house and marries her, he discovers that she has a troubled past—which, soon revealed, makes the rest of the tale an anticlimactic race to bring Chadwick to justice. Clara, Mario learns, was seduced at age 11 by a pedophiliac headmaster; she is also haunted by dreams of murder and mayhem, which the loving Mario must confront, ditto for threats to his reputation and career.

As melodramatic and stagy as any opera, but without the compensations of music and singers.

Pub Date: Feb. 18, 2002

ISBN: 0-312-27552-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2001

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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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While a few weeks ago it seemed as if Praeger would have a two month lead over Dutton in their presentation of this Soviet best seller, both the "authorized" edition (Dutton's) and the "unauthorized" (Praeger's) will appear almost simultaneously. There has been considerable advance attention on what appears to be as much of a publishing cause celebre here as the original appearance of the book in Russia. Without entering into the scrimmage, or dismissing it as a plague on both your houses, we will limit ourselves to a few facts. Royalties from the "unauthorized" edition will go to the International Rescue Committee; Dutton with their contracted edition is adhering to copyright conventions. The Praeger edition has two translators and one of them is the translator of Doctor Zhivago Dutton's translator, Ralph Parker, has been stigmatized by Praeger as "an apologist for the Soviet regime". To the untutored eye, the Dutton translation seems a little more literary, the Praeger perhaps closer to the rather primitive style of the original. The book itself is an account of one day in the three thousand six hundred and fifty three days of the sentence to be served by a carpenter, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. (Solzhenitsyn was a political prisoner.) From the unrelenting cold without, to the conditions within, from the bathhouse to the latrine to the cells where survival for more than two weeks is impossible, this records the hopeless facts of existence as faced by thousands who went on "living like this, with your eyes on the ground". The Dutton edition has an excellent introduction providing an orientation on the political background to its appearance in Russia by Marvin Kalb. All involved in its publication (translators, introducers, etc.) claim for it great "artistic" values which we cannot share, although there is no question of its importance as a political and human document and as significant and tangible evidence of the de-Stalinization program.

Pub Date: June 15, 1963

ISBN: 0451228146

Page Count: 181

Publisher: Praeger

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1963

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