A philosophically resonant tale about the shaping, and force, of collective memory.


A determined archivist struggles to find truth.

In the “what if” genre of historical fiction, Zelitch (Waveland, 2015, etc.) imagines a postwar Jewish state not in Israel but in Saxony, east of Berlin, on the border of Germany, Poland, and Czechoslovakia. Created in 1948, Judenstaat is celebrating its 40th anniversary by making a documentary film to shore up national pride. In charge of research is librarian Judit Klemmer, a young woman frustrated by lies and evasions as she tries to “make sense of things that everybody knew, and no one would acknowledge….For forty years,” she thinks, “our country has been buried alive.” Intended as a “national project of reparation and even retribution for the Holocaust,” Judenstaat was supported by “Righteous Gentile” Germans. But it has existed uneasily among many who would prefer to see it fail: anti-Semitic Saxons, who “denied any Jewish claim to the land”; cynical Cosmopolitans, loyal only to themselves; angry fundamentalist Jews known as black-hats; and fascists from Germany and Russia. Judenstaat was so vulnerable that it began surrounded by a wall, which now is being taken down. Judit’s mother is not alone in feeling fearful: “We have so many enemies,” she tells Judit, “and isn’t that all the more reason to secure our borders?” But Judit realizes that the state’s enemies cannot easily be identified. Her own husband, a Saxon orchestra conductor, was slain, and Judit does not know who killed him, nor if he really is dead. She's haunted by a ghost who leaves her an unsettling message: “They lied about the murder.” Whose murder? she wonders. So many have died; so many disappeared; so many lies have been presented as truth. Enmeshed in the past, Judit grapples with questions of justice, revenge, and trust.

A philosophically resonant tale about the shaping, and force, of collective memory.

Pub Date: June 21, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-7653-8296-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Tor

Review Posted Online: March 29, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2016

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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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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 16, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2018

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