You won’t look at those young, white-shirted Mormon men on their bicycles in quite the same way again.


In which Mormon missionaries take positions, some contrary, dark and violent.

Elder McLeod is a brooding young man with the natural tendencies of a juvenile delinquent; about the first thing we learn about him is that he is inclined to make “a half show of resistance” about all things, not least the work he’s doing. So why is he sweating his way through “the close, crucible heat” of Brazil? Therein hangs part of ex-Mormon writer McIlvain’s smart if anticlimactic yarn of a not-so-quiet American who, on his required mission as a newly minted Mormon “elder,” butts up against a real elder, an older Brazilian named Elder Passos who has very different ideas of how the world works and who’s in charge than McLeod. Passos is earnest and dogged, not inclined to give up. And he loves a good challenge, including the one set before him and his missionary partner by a lively and willing young woman and her much less pliable husband, who, when confronted with the prospect of converting, counters that if she wants to be religious, she should go to Mass more often. There’s more to it than all that, of course, and Josefina—she of the cutoff jeans “and the legs in them”—poses a crisis of conscience for McLeod that will lead to some spirit-shattering moments as he and Passos wrestle like Jacob and the angel. McIlvain, a recent Stegner Fellow, does a fine job of setting up the multifaceted conflict that guides his swiftly paced novel, and if the resolution seems both incomplete and hurried, the writing is assured and often quite funny, as when McLeod, grappling for the Portuguese necessary to acquire the services of a hooker, comes up with a biblical equivalent that has his provider proclaim, happily, “I’m your harlot.”

You won’t look at those young, white-shirted Mormon men on their bicycles in quite the same way again.

Pub Date: March 5, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-307-95569-2

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Hogarth/Crown

Review Posted Online: Feb. 25, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2013

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A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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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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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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