A vivid, multilayered tale that focuses on doctors in Auschwitz and their fates after the war.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2016

The Oath

A debut novel about the Holocaust explores the role of physicians.

The book’s title refers to the Hippocratic oath, which is fitting since this story deals with the Holocaust and its aftermath from the point of view of doctors in Auschwitz and the parts they played. The chief villain (there are plenty) is Dr. Hans Bloch, protégé of the infamous Dr. Josef Mengele. The conflicted hero is Dr. Michel Katz, a French Jew who is taken to the Nazi death camp. He curries favor with Mengele in a desperate hope to save his family from the lethal gas and the ovens. He winds up performing autopsies for Bloch. Other characters include Martin Brosky, a survivor and avenger, who witnessed the killing of his parents, and Tamara Lissner, a Czech teenager whom Katz hides after she miraculously survives the gas “showers.” Katz, Lissner, and Brosky lose all their loved ones to the Holocaust. The war ends, and the SS brass and others make desperate plans to save themselves. Bloch manages to get to the United States under Operation Paperclip (with Wernher von Braun, et. al), later changing his identity. Katz, a displaced person, arrives in the U.S., too, and resumes practicing medicine but as a haunted, half-broken man. Brosky tracks down the officer who killed his parents. Now he targets Bloch and enlists Katz, who, with Lissner’s help, has become almost morally whole again. The novel is beautifully written with rarely a misstep. At one point, Brosky reflects on identity: “It was inevitable, death. To some, it came when they forcibly removed you from your own home and placed you in the ghetto. For others, demise followed the forced march out of the squalid tenements to the train. Death of your soul commenced once the doors of the cattle car were slammed shut and locked. And if you lasted that long, upon entry to the camp, you became an invisible being—faceless, nameless, and without spirit.” Some of the descriptions (of firestorms, for example) are almost too vivid to bear. Stein, a doctor himself, fearlessly handles the numerous moral questions, with the characters’ responses to those issues subtly nuanced. There is much to think about even 70 years later (the author includes an extensive bibliography). The Holocaust reverberates here, as it should.

A vivid, multilayered tale that focuses on doctors in Auschwitz and their fates after the war.

Pub Date: Dec. 19, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-9909345-0-9

Page Count: 428

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2016

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the...


Hannah’s sequel to Firefly Lane (2008) demonstrates that those who ignore family history are often condemned to repeat it.

When we last left Kate and Tully, the best friends portrayed in Firefly Lane, the friendship was on rocky ground. Now Kate has died of cancer, and Tully, whose once-stellar TV talk show career is in free fall, is wracked with guilt over her failure to be there for Kate until her very last days. Kate’s death has cemented the distrust between her husband, Johnny, and daughter Marah, who expresses her grief by cutting herself and dropping out of college to hang out with goth poet Paxton. Told mostly in flashbacks by Tully, Johnny, Marah and Tully’s long-estranged mother, Dorothy, aka Cloud, the story piles up disasters like the derailment of a high-speed train. Increasingly addicted to prescription sedatives and alcohol, Tully crashes her car and now hovers near death, attended by Kate’s spirit, as the other characters gather to see what their shortsightedness has wrought. We learn that Tully had tried to parent Marah after her father no longer could. Her hard-drinking decline was triggered by Johnny’s anger at her for keeping Marah and Paxton’s liaison secret. Johnny realizes that he only exacerbated Marah’s depression by uprooting the family from their Seattle home. Unexpectedly, Cloud, who rebuffed Tully’s every attempt to reconcile, also appears at her daughter’s bedside. Sixty-nine years old and finally sober, Cloud details for the first time the abusive childhood, complete with commitments to mental hospitals and electroshock treatments, that led to her life as a junkie lowlife and punching bag for trailer-trash men. Although powerful, Cloud’s largely peripheral story deflects focus away from the main conflict, as if Hannah was loath to tackle the intractable thicket in which she mired her main characters.

Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the pages turning even as readers begin to resent being drawn into this masochistic morass.

Pub Date: April 23, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-312-57721-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet


Debut novel by hip-hop rap artist Sister Souljah, whose No Disrespect (1994), which mixes sexual history with political diatribe, is popular in schools country-wide. In its way, this is a tour de force of black English and underworld slang, as finely tuned to its heroine’s voice as Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. The subject matter, though, has a certain flashiness, like a black Godfather family saga, and the heroine’s eventual fall develops only glancingly from her character. Born to a 14-year-old mother during one of New York’s worst snowstorms, Winter Santiaga is the teenaged daughter of Ricky Santiaga, Brooklyn’s top drug dealer, who lives like an Arab prince and treats his wife and four daughters like a queen and her princesses. Winter lost her virginity at 12 and now focuses unwaveringly on varieties of adolescent self-indulgence: sex and sugar-daddies, clothes, and getting her own way. She uses school only as a stepping-stone for getting out of the house—after all, nobody’s paying her to go there. But if there’s no money in it, why go? Meanwhile, Daddy decides it’s time to move out of Brooklyn to truly fancy digs on Long Island, though this places him in the discomfiting position of not being absolutely hands-on with his dealers; and sure enough the rise of some young Turks leads to his arrest. Then he does something really stupid: he murders his wife’s two weak brothers in jail with him on Riker’s Island and gets two consecutive life sentences. Winter’s then on her own, especially with Bullet, who may have replaced her dad as top hood, though when she selfishly fails to help her pregnant buddy Simone, there’s worse—much worse—to come. Thinness aside: riveting stuff, with language so frank it curls your hair. (Author tour)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-671-02578-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1999

Did you like this book?