A tender look at immigrants in America and Nazi victims in Europe succeeds in educating and engaging readers.

THE SWEETNESS

A Jewish girl in Eastern Europe and her teenage American cousin experience the Holocaust years in vastly different ways in this bittersweet novel.  

Debut novelist Berger found her inspiration in stories she overheard as a child, as she writes in her acknowledgements. She treats her material with delicacy and occasional awkwardness. The book begins with an account by 8-year-old Rosha in 1941 of her life in the Jewish ghetto of Vilna as her family prepares for the Sabbath and awaits the arrival of her father, who shows up late with a six-pointed yellow star and the word JUDE newly displayed on his sleeve. The next chapter, set in the same year but in Brooklyn, is far more lighthearted, as it introduces Mira, an 18-year-old fashion-design student who's trying to sneak out of her traditional home wearing dramatic makeup in emulation of the movie stars she adores. The story continues in a series of short chapters told from different viewpoints, though only Rosha’s tale, which turns out to be about being hidden in a basement by a Catholic Polish woman, is in the first person. The extended Brooklyn family is deeply affected by the grim news they receive about their Vilna relations, all of whom they believe to be dead. Berger has created compelling characters, including Mira’s autocratic father and her two maiden aunts, and is especially insightful about the complications of family ties during stressful times. But the book sometimes seems strained as it tries to balance a host of larger issues, like gender roles during and after World War II, with more intimate details. Tenses and prepositions get tangled sometimes, as in this description of how Mira’s beau interacts with her family: “Nathan listened to all sides of the story and acted like a natural mediator, when indeed he was to become the family’s buffer.”

A tender look at immigrants in America and Nazi victims in Europe succeeds in educating and engaging readers.

Pub Date: Sept. 23, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-63152-907-8

Page Count: 302

Publisher: She Writes Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 4, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2014

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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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ANIMAL FARM

A FAIRY STORY

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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