A charming, funny piece of Americana.

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Magic Irving and His Magic Shoppe

In his debut comedy, Ostrow takes readers on a meandering, satirical journey through the justice system, American-Jewish culture, and the perplexing life of a small-time magician.

This tongue-in-cheek story follows Irving Flax, a magician who hasn’t made it big. Magic is Irving’s lifelong passion—he mixes performance with owning and operating a small magic shop in upstate New York—but he can’t avoid the trouble it gets him into, from domestic drama to ill-advised professional entanglements to more serious dangers. Irving’s life is a series of misadventures, but they come to a head when he foils a convenience store robbery with a flashy fire trick. While briefly lauded for his heroism, Irving finds himself brought up on charges for carrying a concealed weapon, assault with a deadly weapon, maybe even attempted murder. And that’s just the beginning. The novel moves quickly and unpredictably, bouncing between Irving’s central, present-day challenges and scenes from his past and family history. The story even makes time to tell life stories of seemingly unrelated characters, all to set up the punch line of how they intersect with Irving’s strange, small world. Replete with comic asides and a rich cast of curious characters, the book reads more like a Woody Allen film than the average novel. Parts of the story feel dated, with a number of tricks and jokes relying on Polaroid cameras, slide projectors, or other outmoded artifacts. The plot also calls for a strong suspension of disbelief, considering how many frauds and scam artists could be exposed through the use of, say, a Google search. But these anachronisms usually aid the absurdist exaggerations and humor; as the book itself says when describing a record player: “It is an obsolete technology but, perhaps, it’s a bit more romantic.” Some of the humor may also fall flat for readers more concerned with political correctness, as it does invoke stereotypes and other broad-comedy tropes. Nevertheless, it’s all in good fun, and fans of older stand-up routines will feel right at home.

A charming, funny piece of Americana.

Pub Date: June 7, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-4917-6923-2

Page Count: 344

Publisher: iUniverse

Review Posted Online: Aug. 19, 2015

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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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THE SCREWTAPE LETTERS

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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