Fun and educational—a unique look at post-Civil War America.



A righteous man traverses Civil War era America and fights for the causes in which he believes.

Zeke Thompson: orphan, white, cripple, federal agent, unrepentant abolitionist and chef extraordinaire; a befitting description for a man who led an extraordinary life in tumultuous 19th-century America. Zeke was beaten by his father, who died when Zeke was a child, and then left all alone when Zeke’s mother died from a botched abortion. Jason, a kindly and knowledgeable slave from a local plantation, takes the orphaned boy under his wing and teaches him how to hunt and fish, but more importantly teaches him that all men are the same and all equally deserving of the liberties promised in America. When Jason is killed for a crime he didn’t commit, Zeke is spurred to a lifetime of protecting slaves and helping the less fortunate. After being sent to New York to escape violent Southerners as well as to further his education, Zeke joins the Union Army, becomes a decorated war hero and embarks upon a career of rescuing illegal slaves. Whether falling in love, meeting the president or being kidnapped, Zeke never forgets his mission to help the disenfranchised. While most of the story is well paced, Zeke’s nonstop adventures sometimes proceed too quickly; he goes from wartime chef to paraplegic to national hero in a matter of pages. This speed robs Zeke of some of his depth, as readers are denied an opportunity to glimpse his evolving character. As befitting a man of action, some of Zeke’s dialogue, particularly soapbox speeches on slavery and equality in America, are hackneyed and would not hold sway with the powerful politicians to whom he is preaching. But through all of his travels, Zeke’s conviction stands out, and in this entertaining novel that reads as a Forrest Gump-type journey through mid-19th century America, he is a fine prism through which to view a complicated time in our nation’s history.

Fun and educational—a unique look at post-Civil War America.

Pub Date: March 10, 2011

ISBN: 978-1452872179

Page Count: 292

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: May 11, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2011

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Though gripping, even moving at times, the novel doesn’t do justice to the solemn history from which it is drawn.


In this follow-up to the widely read The Tattooist of Auschwitz (2018), a young concentration camp survivor is sentenced to 15 years’ hard labor in a Russian gulag.

The novel begins with the liberation of Auschwitz by Soviet troops in 1945. In the camp, 16-year-old Cecilia "Cilka" Klein—one of the Jewish prisoners introduced in Tattooist—was forced to become the mistress of two Nazi commandants. The Russians accuse her of collaborating—they also think she might be a spy—and send her to the Vorkuta Gulag in Siberia. There, another nightmarish scenario unfolds: Cilka, now 18, and the other women in her hut are routinely raped at night by criminal-class prisoners with special “privileges”; by day, the near-starving women haul coal from the local mines in frigid weather. The narrative is intercut with Cilka’s grim memories of Auschwitz as well as her happier recollections of life with her parents and sister before the war. At Vorkuta, her lot improves when she starts work as a nurse trainee at the camp hospital under the supervision of a sympathetic woman doctor who tries to protect her. Cilka also begins to feel the stirrings of romantic love for Alexandr, a fellow prisoner. Though believing she is cursed, Cilka shows great courage and fortitude throughout: Indeed, her ability to endure trauma—as well her heroism in ministering to the sick and wounded—almost defies credulity. The novel is ostensibly based on a true story, but a central element in the book—Cilka’s sexual relationship with the SS officers—has been challenged by the Auschwitz Memorial Research Center and by the real Cilka’s stepson, who says it is false. As in Tattooist, the writing itself is workmanlike at best and often overwrought.

Though gripping, even moving at times, the novel doesn’t do justice to the solemn history from which it is drawn.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-26570-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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If nothing else, you have to giggle over how this novel’s namesake, who held vicious white supremacist opinions, must be...


Some very nice, very smart African-Americans are plunged into netherworlds of malevolent sorcery in the waning days of Jim Crow—as if Jim Crow alone wasn’t enough of a curse to begin with.

In the northern U.S. of the mid-1950s, as depicted in this merrily macabre pastiche by Ruff (The Mirage, 2012, etc.), Driving While Black is an even more perilous proposition than it is now. Ask Atticus Turner, an African-American Korean War veteran and science-fiction buff, who is compelled to face an all-too-customary gauntlet of racist highway patrolmen and hostile white roadside hamlets en route from his South Side Chicago home to a remote Massachusetts village in search of his curmudgeonly father, Montrose, who was lured away by a young white “sharp dresser” driving a silver Cadillac with tinted windows. At least Atticus isn’t alone; his uncle George, who puts out annual editions of The Safe Negro Travel Guide, is splitting driving duties in his Packard station wagon “with inlaid birch trim and side paneling.” Also along for the ride is Atticus’ childhood friend Letitia Dandridge, another sci-fi fan, whose family lived in the same neighborhood as the Turners. It turns out this road trip is merely the beginning of a series of bizarre chimerical adventures ensnaring both the Turner and Dandridge clans in ancient rituals, arcane magical texts, alternate universes, and transmogrifying potions, all of which bears some resemblance to the supernatural visions of H.P. Lovecraft and other gothic dream makers of the past. Ruff’s ripping yarns often pile on contrivances and overextend the narratives in the grand manner of pulp storytelling, but the reinvented mythos here seems to have aroused in him a newfound empathy and engagement with his characters.

If nothing else, you have to giggle over how this novel’s namesake, who held vicious white supremacist opinions, must be doing triple axels in his grave at the way his imagination has been so impudently shaken and stirred.

Pub Date: Feb. 16, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-06-229206-3

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2015

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