GREENHORNS

Painful, riveting, personal, and powerfully universal.

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 30, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2018

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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THE TATTOOIST OF AUSCHWITZ

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 16, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2018

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