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


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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