No Rest in His Bones

A guilt-haunted man examines what he sees as his role in a terrible crime committed by his wife.
When did you know your wife was a sociopath?
asks the first line of this novel. Michael Sanders, recently promoted to director of financial aid for a Chicago-area university, and his wife, Liz, are ready to start a family, but at 35, Liz is finding it difficult to become pregnant—and she reacts pathologically. Michael already carries an enormous burden of guilt for in some way contributing to Liz’s parents’ deaths (just how is revealed late in the book), and as a result, he feels responsible for making sure Liz gets everything she wants: “I spent the last ten years foolishly covering up my own devastating mistake and nurturing dysfunction in my wife….Even though I didn’t commit the crime with my own hands, I am truly just as guilty as Liz.” Although Nicola (The Lives of Skeletons, 2012, etc.) casts Michael’s core problem as one of turning away from God, the real problem—shared by both Michael and Liz—is their dearth of emotional intelligence. For this, Nicola provides abundant and well-delineated evidence of secrets and lies. Liz pretends to have forgiven the drunk driver who killed her parents, but she’s lying; Michael knows that Liz’s father was no saint, “but Liz didn’t need to know that”; Michael is upset that Liz doesn’t ask him about his own feelings about infertility, but he doesn’t tell her; Michael keeps financial troubles from Liz, and Liz painstakingly fakes a pregnancy. Though the truths come out, even at the end, Michael calls Liz “a monster of my own creation,” which goes beyond taking responsibility for his own actions, as if Liz is incapable of agency. He’s still treating her as too weak-minded to have made her own decisions. Some readers may appreciate this view of husbandly responsibility; many will be turned off. Nicola does skillfully build suspense, however, taking readers through Liz’s crazy logic step by step and showing just how an otherwise sane woman could make her choices. Liz’s self-righteousness is chilling and well-observed.
Clearly shows the toxic thinking in a bad relationship, but not all readers will be satisfied with the resolution.

Pub Date: June 24, 2014

ISBN: 978-1499702125

Page Count: 330

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: July 29, 2014

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

CILKA'S JOURNEY

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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