A finely crafted consideration of responsibility within a familiar historical tale.


A judge who presided at the Salem witch trials comes to repent of his role.

Although leavened with wit, British novelist and historian Francis’ fictionalization of Samuel Sewall’s predicament is a cerebral, scrupulous, often abstract story. Thirty-eight-year-old Sewall—not only a judge, but “a Council member, merchant, private banker, householder and family man”—is a soul striving for decency in a challenging era. The Puritan community in Boston in the late 17th century, bounded by ocean on one side and wilderness on the other, faced many threats, including the distant but powerful control of the British king, the French, the Indians, attacks, and massacres. As the novel opens, Sewall’s involvement in the trial of seven pirates leads him to regret that he may have compromised his principles and shown weakness. And then reports begin of witchcraft and spectral visitations in Salem. Francis, who previously wrote a respected biography of Sewall (Judge Sewall’s Apology: The Salem Witch Trials and the Forming of the American Conscience, 2005, etc.), seems magnetized by the perpetual dilemmas of morality, grace, and faith as embodied in an honest man, hampered by “fear of authority, or at least the desire to placate those in power,” now confronted by a rapidly spreading contagion of either devilry or lying children. As the trials begin and then the hangings, and the spate of accusations gathers pace, the community begins to grow uneasy and ultimately hostile to the judges and their methods. Meanwhile, Sewall continues his relentless self-questioning. Francis’ measured narration allows the suffering, piety, and tragic delusions of events to emerge with clarity. Sewall is both perpetrator and witness and, eventually—through his expressions of atonement—a voice of conscience.

A finely crafted consideration of responsibility within a familiar historical tale.

Pub Date: Oct. 4, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-60945-351-0

Page Count: 326

Publisher: Europa Editions

Review Posted Online: Aug. 3, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2016

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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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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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