Numbing scenes of horrific carnage and brutality make for painful, but somehow compulsory, reading.

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CITY OF GOD

A bleak panorama of slum life in Rio’s Cidade de Deus (the “City of God”) under three decades of gang rule.

The basis for a 2002 Brazilian film, this tale defies summary. The movie, at least, imposes structure, via the main character Rocket’s point of view, as opposed to the novel’s sprawling, free-form litany of unremitting violence amid the blocks and houses of slums. In three sections covering the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s, Lins follows the exploits of three primary gangsters: Hellraiser, Sparrow and Tiny. A multiethnic horde of minor characters flit in and out of the gangsters’ truncated lives as they plot and execute holdups, whack friends, relatives and rivals, obsessively pursue women, drugs, samba prowess, revenge and loot. Rocket, a bit player here, hangs with the Boys, upwardly mobile City dwellers who are into weed, rock concerts and beach parties, but manage to stay in school and avoid becoming thug protégés. An aspiring photographer, Rocket can’t bring himself to rob: The potential victims are too nice. Hellraiser introduces Pipsqueak to crime when he enlists the punk sociopath to help in a motel heist. When Hellraiser is wasted by Detective Beelzebub, Pipsqueak, now self-dubbed Tiny, and his best friend Sparrow take control of the City’s economic lifeblood, its drug dens. After Tiny hears of a vicious rape/murder, he punishes the culprits Butucatu and Potbelly for infringing his ban on crime against City residents. Gunning for Tiny, Butucatu kills Sparrow. Tiny reigns alone, but not for long—envious of Knockout’s good looks, he rapes the hitherto solid citizen’s fiancée. This triggers full-blown gang war, which divides the City into zones controlled by Knockout’s growing army, and Tiny’s increasingly fractious band of cohorts. Much bloodshed later, the chaos in the City endures—only the perpetrators change. Tiny meets his end at the hands of a novice gangster much like his former self.

Numbing scenes of horrific carnage and brutality make for painful, but somehow compulsory, reading.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-8021-7010-2

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Black Cat/Grove

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2006

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An exuberant comic opera set to the music of life.

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DEACON KING KONG

The versatile and accomplished McBride (Five Carat Soul, 2017, etc.) returns with a dark urban farce crowded with misjudged signals, crippling sorrows, and unexpected epiphanies.

It's September 1969, just after Apollo 11 and Woodstock. In a season of such events, it’s just as improbable that in front of 16 witnesses occupying the crowded plaza of a Brooklyn housing project one afternoon, a hobbling, dyspeptic, and boozy old church deacon named Cuffy Jasper "Sportcoat" Lambkin should pull out a .45-caliber Luger pistol and shoot off an ear belonging to the neighborhood’s most dangerous drug dealer. The 19-year-old victim’s name is Deems Clemens, and Sportcoat had coached him to be “the best baseball player the projects had ever seen” before he became “a poison-selling murderous meathead.” Everybody in the project presumes that Sportcoat is now destined to violently join his late wife, Hettie, in the great beyond. But all kinds of seemingly disconnected people keep getting in destiny's way, whether it’s Sportcoat’s friend Pork Sausage or Potts, a world-weary but scrupulous White policeman who’s hoping to find Sportcoat fast enough to protect him from not only Deems’ vengeance, but the malevolent designs of neighborhood kingpin Butch Moon. All their destines are somehow intertwined with those of Thomas “The Elephant” Elefante, a powerful but lonely Mafia don who’s got one eye trained on the chaos set off by the shooting and another on a mysterious quest set in motion by a stranger from his crime-boss father’s past. There are also an assortment of salsa musicians, a gentle Nation of Islam convert named Soup, and even a tribe of voracious red ants that somehow immigrated to the neighborhood from Colombia and hung around for generations, all of which seems like too much stuff for any one book to handle. But as he's already shown in The Good Lord Bird (2013), McBride has a flair for fashioning comedy whose buoyant outrageousness barely conceals both a steely command of big and small narrative elements and a river-deep supply of humane intelligence.

An exuberant comic opera set to the music of life.

Pub Date: March 3, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1672-3

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Dec. 9, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

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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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