Painful, riveting, personal, and powerfully universal.

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GREENHORNS

Historian and novelist Slotkin (The Long Road to Antietam, 2012, etc.) writes more personally in these linked semifictional stories based on his ancestors’ immigration from Eastern Europe early in the 20th century.

Slotkin makes clear that these stories are based on a range of experiences within his own family. “The Gambler” is about a poker-playing butcher in pre–World War II Brooklyn who's still questioning his decision to emigrate in 1902 without his wife and sons and then not send for them until he felt financially ready four years later, and it sets up the challenges explored throughout the book: the impossible choices faced by immigrants like the butcher, who feels that “in winning he lost”; why some immigrants adapt while others can’t; the emotional cost of leaving one’s homeland, however inhospitable it’s become. Slotkin’s only female protagonist, sophisticated Upper West Sider Cousin Bella, is also unique in the wealth and education she enjoyed as a girl on what the immigrants here call “The Other Side.” Whether thanks to her early advantages or the steady resilience she inherited from her father, she successfully remakes herself in America after her father’s brutal murder by czarist forces during the Russian Revolution. In "Honor," by contrast, a formerly successful grain merchant fails to adapt in America, clinging to values like trust and honor that betray him once he loses the trappings of success. As if Slotkin is arguing Talmudically with himself, that same value system works to several immigrants’ advantage in the next story, "The Milkman," in which the title character defines what it is to be a mensch, a good man, whose trust and honor bring unexpected rewards to himself and others. Then comes a counterpunch to optimism, the all too relevant tragedy “Uncle Max and Cousin Yossi,” examining the permanent emotional damage caused when a 4-year-old boy is violently wrenched from his family and thought dead only to reappear months later. The humor of Slotkin’s end piece, “Greenhorn Nation: A History in Jokes,” is pointed to say the least.

Painful, riveting, personal, and powerfully universal.

Pub Date: Oct. 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-935248-99-6

Page Count: 186

Publisher: Leapfrog

Review Posted Online: July 31, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2018

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A bold, fertile work lit by powerful images, often consumed by debate, almost old-school in its feminist commitment.

THE BOOK OF V.

Esther, the Old Testament teenager who reluctantly married a Persian king and saved her people, is connected across the ages to two more contemporary women in a sinuous, thoughtful braid of women’s unceasing struggles for liberty and identity.

Biblical Esther, second-wave feminist Vee, and contemporary mother-of-two Lily are the women whose narrative strands and differing yet sometimes parallel dilemmas are interwoven in Solomon’s (Leaving Lucy Pear, 2016, etc.) questing, unpredictable new novel. All three are grappling—some more dangerously than others—with aspects of male power versus their own self-determination. Esther, selected from 40 virgins to be the second queen—after her predecessor, Vashti, was banished (or worse)—is the strangest. Her magical powers can bring on a shocking physical transformation or reanimate a skeletal bird, yet she is still a prisoner in a gilded cage, mother to an heir, frustrated daughter of an imperiled tribe. Vee, wife of an ambitious senator in 1970s Washington, finds herself a player in a House of Cards–type scenario, pressured toward sexual humiliation by her unscrupulous husband. Lily, in 21st-century Brooklyn, has chosen motherhood over work and is fretting about the costumes for her two daughters to wear at the Purim carnival honoring Esther. Alongside questions of male dominance, issues of sexuality arise often, as do female communities, from Esther’s slave sisters to Vee’s consciousness-raising groups to Lily’s sewing circle. And while layers of overlap continue among the three women's stories—second wives, sewing, humming—so do subtly different individual choices. Finely written and often vividly imagined, this is a cerebral, interior novel devoted to the notion of womanhood as a composite construction made up of myriad stories and influences.

A bold, fertile work lit by powerful images, often consumed by debate, almost old-school in its feminist commitment.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-25701-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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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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