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 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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An interesting premise imperfectly executed.

THE ORPHAN'S TALE

A Jewish trapeze artist and a Dutch unwed mother bond, after much aerial practice, as the circus comes to Nazi-occupied France.

Ingrid grew up in a Jewish circus family in Darmstadt, Germany. In 1934, she marries Erich, a German officer, and settles in Berlin. In 1942, as the war and Holocaust escalate, Erich is forced to divorce Ingrid. She returns to Darmstadt to find that her family has disappeared. A rival German circus clan, led by its patriarch, Herr Neuhoff, takes her in, giving her a stage name, Astrid, and forged Aryan papers. As she rehearses for the circus’ coming French tour, she once again experiences the freedom of an accomplished aerialist, even as her age, late 20s, catches up with her. The point of view shifts (and will alternate throughout) to Noa, a Dutch teenager thrown out by her formerly loving father when she gets pregnant by a German soldier. After leaving the German unwed mothers’ home where her infant has been taken away, either for the Reich’s Lebensborn adoption program or a worse fate, Noa finds work sweeping a train station. When she comes upon a boxcar full of dead or dying infants, she impulsively grabs one who resembles her own child, later naming him Theo. By chance, Noa and Theo are also rescued by Neuhoff, who offers her refuge in the circus, provided she can learn the trapeze. The tour begins with a stop in Thiers, France. Astrid is still leery of her new apprentice, but Noa catches on quickly and soon must replace Astrid in the act due to the risk that a Nazi spectator might recognize her. Noa falls in love with the mayor’s son, Luc, who Astrid suspects is a collaborator. Astrid’s Russian lover, Peter, a clown, tempts fate with a goose-stepping satire routine, and soon the circus will afford little protection to anybody. The diction seems too contemporary for the period, and the degree of danger the characters are in is more often summarized than demonstrated.

An interesting premise imperfectly executed.

Pub Date: Feb. 28, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-7783-1981-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Harlequin MIRA

Review Posted Online: Oct. 19, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2016

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