A tender, enlightening debut that, urban setting aside, reads like a comedy of provincial manners.

SEVEN BLESSINGS

A gentle evocation of love and faith in Jerusalem’s Orthodox community.

There are peevish singles in the “City of Peace,” a small crowd of Orthodox thirty- and forty-somethings, smart and independent to a fault, whose recreational hours are made up of long-drawn-out flirtations with the Torah. It’s enough to drive a matchmaker up the Weeping Wall. Especially Tsippi, who emerged from Treblinka with an extraordinary motive for making matches (“Every couple she brought together—saliva in Hitler’s stupefied face”). Her chief frustration is Beth, a never-been-kissed American who walks away from a string of favorable dates with Akiva, a sensitive house-painter plagued by violent twitches and spasms. King then seems, like a Jewish Jane Austen, to insinuate into the tale a rakish rival for Beth’s halfhearted affection. But Beth and Binyamin don’t hit it off; the latter, a cynical artist who adds Jewish symbols to his canvases in order to increase sales, finds in every potential mate an intolerable aesthetic flaw. The hyper-virginal and hyper-intellectual Beth becomes a Bridget Jones in reverse, obsessing over her nability to desire a man; she breaks down, buys sexy tangerine panties, makes a play for Akiva. Meanwhile, Tsippi and fellow matchmaker Judy begin to find their own marriages wanting; each discovering, largely through renewed interest in Torah studies, a fervent rekindling of the hearth. Much of the story’s strength rises from King’s generous description of Jerusalem, from fig and acacia trees to synagogues and tomb factories. Especially of interest are the numerous passages involving the characters’ performance of Orthodox rituals and their deep pokings-about into theology. Their religious principles keep the tale on the straight and narrow path of 19th-century literature: there’s no sex here, though Akiva does caress Beth’s shoe with obvious yearning while sitting in the park.

A tender, enlightening debut that, urban setting aside, reads like a comedy of provincial manners.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2003

ISBN: 0-312-30915-5

Page Count: 256

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2003

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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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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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