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THE BOOK OF STEVEN

A strangely effective blend: an optimistic book about suicide.

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A fast-paced fantasy novel about suicide and what comes after.

Steven, the narrator of Stevenson and Azad’s engaging fiction debut, just killed himself. It’s an unusual storytelling twist, one that, had this book been written at almost any other point in Christianity’s 2,000-year history, would have been followed by Steven finding himself in hell (in the Seventh Circle, according to Dante), destined to spend eternity being punished for the sin of self-murder. But in this novel’s much warmer, more humanistic world, Steven—a foulmouthed, excitable 34-year-old with a heart of gold—awakens in heaven, assured by both God and Jesus (who’s nicknamed “Junior”) that there is no actual place of eternal damnation. “[H]ell can be anywhere,” he’s told, with the shrewd elaboration: “Right before you pulled that trigger, I’m sure that you would describe how you were feeling as something close to what has been described by others as hell.” And this isn’t the only variation on standard Christian theology in this remarkable book; in a nod to Eastern mythologies, souls here—including Steven’s—return to the world again, to live new and hopefully better lives. Over the course of the novel, Steven has many lively conversations with God and Jesus on a wide range of philosophical subjects, and he’s given plenty of straightforward advice that will resonate with the book’s Christian readers, especially those whose lives have been touched by suicide. Steven is assured that “wonderful things will happen to you every day if you stick around and keep exploring your own mysteries,” and his life “will be better spent down there if it is an activity that results in a story, and not the other way around.” Whether Steven will succeed in his new life —i.e., put away childish behavior, live in faith, maybe even this time win the love of a pretty girl—isn’t clear. It rarely is.

A strangely effective blend: an optimistic book about suicide.

Pub Date: Jan. 12, 2015

ISBN: 978-1491756164

Page Count: 284

Publisher: iUniverse

Review Posted Online: April 16, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2015

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THE TATTOOIST OF AUSCHWITZ

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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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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