No style to the prose, no nuance to the characters. Can any of it be taken seriously? Not a prayer.

THE ACCIDENTAL POPE

A former US ambassador to the Vatican (Flynn) and a bestselling storyteller (Moore: The Green Berets, 1965, etc.) weave an unlikely tale about a Cape Cod family man elected the 265th pope.

With John Paul II gone, the College of Cardinals in Rome, charged with choosing his successor, finds itself deadlocked. The favorites: Vatican secretary Ireland’s Cardinal Robustelli, Cardinal Comiskey, and Africa’s Cardinal Motupu. Each has his powerful, intractable supporters, and with each ballot the hope for compromise grows dimmer. Then, as a joke (cardinals can be as silly as anyone else), one of the conclave votes for Bill Kelly. That’s right, Cardinal Comiskey’s close friend Father Bill Kelly, a laicized priest who got married and subsequently fathered four children. The laughter turns hollow when it develops that enough waggish cardinals have put Kelly’s name on their ballots to secure him the election. Still, surely Kelly will let them off the hook, won’t he? Cardinal Comiskey predicts that he will and ordinarily would have been right—except there’s been an epiphany. The Blessed Virgin has appeared to Bill, he tells the bemused cardinal, with a message from her son. Divinely inspired, then, Bill opts for becoming Peter the Second. Almost at once, however, his warm-hearted approach earns him a sobriquet, just plain “Pope Bill.” Journeying to Africa, he takes a stand against poverty. He tells the Jews and Arabs how to solve the Middle East crisis and the Irish how to achieve lasting peace. Sweet-natured and innately wise, he never sets a pontifical foot wrong. And when, tragically, after only an eyeblink of Pope Bill’s tenure, the white smoke goes up again, the 266th knows he’s got a tough act to follow.

No style to the prose, no nuance to the characters. Can any of it be taken seriously? Not a prayer.

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-312-26801-7

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2000

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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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THE SCREWTAPE LETTERS

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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