Gradually deepening work that gives, by end, a view of the monastic life that’s steady, whole, intelligent, and moving.

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ALL WE KNOW OF HEAVEN

A cloistered monk debuts with the increasingly captivating tale of a 19-year-old who becomes a novitiate and then a full-fledged monk in Canada, near Winnipeg.

Average readers may respond as does the lady, sitting next to Paul Seneschal on the bus, when he tells her that he wants to become a monk. “Why would anyone do that?” His answer, “To find meaning in life,” may trigger incredulity, and some readers, may even feel put off, as Paul’s parents do, especially his brash and outspoken mother, back in Paul’s hometown of St. Jean-Baptiste. In the monastery, after all, the monks wear wool habits, have shaved heads, attend prayer and song each day, sleep in one big room, and almost never speak except by sign language. Why would a normal young man choose such a life—working in the barn, bakery, piggery, or cheese house, in the fields during harvest time, and going entirely without, well, sex? At the start, in fact, Paul seems one-dimensional, almost shallow, and sexless to the point of the unrealistic—until he becomes infatuated with a muscular Scot named Martin and another form of cliché comes to the fore as Paul struggles against his desire so fiercely that he even considers—and tries—self-castration. And yet, near this point, Rougeau’s story also begins to grow richer, find its voice, and draw the reader in as Paul (renamed Antoine) matures, witnesses the deaths of other (sometimes eccentric, even outright crabby) monks, hosts a small group of Buddhists, learns the humility of taking life for exactly what it is, and, a handful of years later when he at last takes vows, discovers that the truth of the monastic purpose is “to discover his weight as a human being”—a notion that, by then, has meaning for the reader too.

Gradually deepening work that gives, by end, a view of the monastic life that’s steady, whole, intelligent, and moving.

Pub Date: May 17, 2001

ISBN: 0-618-09499-7

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 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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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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