A compelling, smart, no-holds-barred story committed equally to verisimilitude and compassion.


With tortured, unflinching clarity, second-novelist Basch (Degrees of Love, 1998) charts the redemptive downfall of a small-town reverend.

Jordanna Nash, 43, has taken up her calling at Hutchinson Congregational Church in Connecticut, following the ousting of the adulterous former minister. Jordanna is unorthodox in many ways, from her jewelry to her “dangerously tall” stature, but not in her unshakable faith. Her sermons are mostly inspirational, and on the surface all seems well. Yet the disappearance and apparent suicide of the depressed June Nearing, whom Jordanna had been helping, sparks controversy. An opportunistic reporter, questioning the validity of spiritual counseling as an alternative to academically verified therapy, gets the town talking. Jordanna, a vivid and intelligent Job-figure, is soon tested to her limits. Her resentful sister Abby is of no real comfort (Abby’s familial dialogues are the only real slowdowns in the narrative), and June’s relatives have consulted with an attorney, causing rumors of a lawsuit. Meanwhile, Tara Sears, a juvenile member of the congregation and its Senior Pilgrim Fellowship, is pregnant and wants an abortion. Jordanna is constantly reminded of the deaths of her own two children, both stillborn, and she’s plagued by back problems that act up during moments of extreme crisis, symbolically detailing her progressive loss of faith. Her professorial husband, Daniel, returns from an Auckland dig with his new graduate-student girlfriend in tow, wanting a divorce. God seems to have abandoned Jordanna. She seeks moral support from her longtime spiritual mentor Chip, who has a stroke at her feet. Such plagues could easily seem contrived, but Basch rarely takes the easy way out. When the church’s aptly named Prudential Board, sort of God’s p.r. group, decides to oust Jordanna, using her divorce as precedent, she’s placed in her final compromising position. Will she run or fight? In the end, her choices have to do mainly with human empathy and sacrifice.

A compelling, smart, no-holds-barred story committed equally to verisimilitude and compassion.

Pub Date: July 1, 2003

ISBN: 0-393-05768-2

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2003

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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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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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