An unpretentious, if rather low-key, story about a pastor looking for the hand of God.

WHEN GOD MAKES HIMSELF KNOWN

A married pastor confronts long-dormant romantic feelings in Epps’ debut Christian novel.

Fifty-five-year-old Robert Maxwell, the pastor at Believer’s Community Fellowship Church in Graceville, Alabama, feels tempted every Sunday as he looks out and sees Emma Crane sitting in one of the pews. “What is wrong with you?” he chastises himself after one service. “You have the most amazing wife on the planet, and you love her with all your heart, so why does this continue to happen to you?” Forty years ago, Robert and Emma were middle school sweethearts; sometime after she moved away, he became a devout Christian, married a woman named Amelia, and had children. But ever since Emma moved back to town two years ago, Robert has felt old feelings stirring—and he’s asked God for help in dealing with them. Robert already has enough on his plate between his duties as pastor and his day job at a business-operations consulting firm, not to mention the troubles of his daughters and their husbands—one of whom he likes, and one he doesn’t. As he goes through his daily life, the various challenges he faces test his faith in ways great and small. Emma is perhaps his greatest test of all—but how should a true man of God face it? Epps writes in an easygoing prose style that effectively channels the rhythms of his protagonist’s daily life: “Robert was looking forward to his week off….Saturday at his in-laws was very peaceful. Amelia brought the ingredients to cook two-pound cakes.” It isn’t a very gripping yarn—Robert is hardly Job in terms of the trials that God sets before him—and it wraps up in a way that one might expect in a Christian novel about a devout man. Even so, Epps presents a realistic tale that’s firmly religious without being overwhelmingly dogmatic. Christian readers looking for a low-stakes slice-of-life story about family and community will likely enjoy this short volume.

An unpretentious, if rather low-key, story about a pastor looking for the hand of God.

Pub Date: May 31, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-973661-96-2

Page Count: 162

Publisher: Westbow Press

Review Posted Online: Nov. 13, 2019

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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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