The weird contrast of Christianity at its most murderous and India at its most sumptuous jars the senses as crime and...

GUARDIAN OF THE DAWN

The Inquisition visits on Portuguese Goa a great terror worthy of Josef Stalin, testing a fragile family to the limit.

Tiago Zarco, Zimler’s half-Jewish, half-Indian narrator, opens this rich, fast-moving story recalling the events that landed him in a prison dedicated to those the Inquisition has set aside for its special attention. Zarco, whose mother died shortly after the birth of his only sibling, Sofia, was fondly raised by his Portuguese-born Jewish father, an illustrator for a nearby Mogul price, and by Nupi, the Indian cook his mother salvaged from life as a beggar. As descendants of artist Berekiah Zarco, protagonist of Zimler’s 1998 The Last Kabbalist of Lisbon, Sofia and Tiago exhibit considerable graphic skills that their father has honed. But those refined talents are of no use at all when the family is caught in the virtuously sadistic grip of the Dominicans, betrayed by someone close to them. The most likely suspects are the awful Portuguese aunt Maria, wife of Tiago’s merchant uncle Isaac, a Christian convert; and Wadi, the Arab orphan adopted by Maria and Isaac. Maria detests her husband’s Jewish background and family, and handsome arrogant Wadi bears a long-held grudge against Tiago, possibly for spurning his adolescent love. Tiago’s father is the first victim of the holy terror, a prison suicide whose death was facilitated by his grieving son, the next to be imprisoned. Tiago, whose fiancée is pregnant, saves himself by professing Christianity, but his sentence to prison in Lisbon, rather than leading to the repentance desired by the Catholics, gives him time to construct a complex revenge against both his betrayer and the priest who sentenced him and his father. When he at last returns to Goa, he believes he knows whom he must punish, but he is compelled to have absolute proof.

The weird contrast of Christianity at its most murderous and India at its most sumptuous jars the senses as crime and punishment work their usual spell in this deeply absorbing work.

Pub Date: July 26, 2005

ISBN: 0-385-33881-3

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Delta

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2005

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The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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A LITTLE LIFE

Four men who meet as college roommates move to New York and spend the next three decades gaining renown in their professions—as an architect, painter, actor and lawyer—and struggling with demons in their intertwined personal lives.

Yanagihara (The People in the Trees, 2013) takes the still-bold leap of writing about characters who don’t share her background; in addition to being male, JB is African-American, Malcolm has a black father and white mother, Willem is white, and “Jude’s race was undetermined”—deserted at birth, he was raised in a monastery and had an unspeakably traumatic childhood that’s revealed slowly over the course of the book. Two of them are gay, one straight and one bisexual. There isn’t a single significant female character, and for a long novel, there isn’t much plot. There aren’t even many markers of what’s happening in the outside world; Jude moves to a loft in SoHo as a young man, but we don’t see the neighborhood change from gritty artists’ enclave to glitzy tourist destination. What we get instead is an intensely interior look at the friends’ psyches and relationships, and it’s utterly enthralling. The four men think about work and creativity and success and failure; they cook for each other, compete with each other and jostle for each other’s affection. JB bases his entire artistic career on painting portraits of his friends, while Malcolm takes care of them by designing their apartments and houses. When Jude, as an adult, is adopted by his favorite Harvard law professor, his friends join him for Thanksgiving in Cambridge every year. And when Willem becomes a movie star, they all bask in his glow. Eventually, the tone darkens and the story narrows to focus on Jude as the pain of his past cuts deep into his carefully constructed life.  

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53925-8

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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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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