Not all bad by any means, but Dickens’s Tale remains the gold standard, and Alleyn’s bold effort is little more than a pale...


Canned history and muted histrionics are dutifully paraded in this earnest, overlong debut, which retells Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities from the viewpoint of the improbably heroic Sydney Carton.

He’s remembered as the jaded English attorney who substituted—and sacrificed—himself for his “looking-glass image,” embattled French nobleman Charles Darnay, the beloved husband of (Carton’s secret love) Lucie Manette. In Alleyn’s version, Carton is the disgruntled son of a demanding father who forces him into the practice of law, and further embittered when the first woman he loves leaves him for a wealthier man. While studying in Paris, then on a surprising later occasion, Carton makes the acquaintance of Darnay, a rather passive sort encumbered by a scandalous family history, a trumped-up charge of spying, and eventually a “denunciation” by bloodthirsty Jacobins who are sending royalty, aristocrats, and all suspected “enemies of the [French] Revolution” headlong to the guillotine. Carton, having fled the law and England and returned to Paris, piques our interest as a self-despising wastrel with tendencies toward nobility of spirit; but Alleyn’s potentially striking characterization is subordinated to his inevitable experience or observation of such watershed phenomena as the storming of the Bastille, the murder of revolutionary Jean-Paul Marat and the “Law of Suspects” jerry-rigged to identify supposed “traitors,” as well as Carton’s (varyingly credible) relationships with historical figures Robespierre, Saint-Just, Danton, and Camille Desmoulins. Matters aren’t helped by Alleyn’s breathless prose, particularly her unfortunately high-flown dialogue, a mixture of romantic fustian and exposition-heavy authorial overmanagement. Still, several of her fictional characters strike a few sparks—notably Darnay’s cousin, fiery bluestocking Eleonore d’Ambert, who beds, weds, betrays, and abandons Carton with seemingly equal amounts of enthusiasm and savoir faire.

Not all bad by any means, but Dickens’s Tale remains the gold standard, and Alleyn’s bold effort is little more than a pale imitation of it.

Pub Date: July 14, 2000

ISBN: 1-56947-197-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Soho

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2000

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as...

Reader Votes

  • Readers Vote
  • 11

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller


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

Did you like this book?


While a few weeks ago it seemed as if Praeger would have a two month lead over Dutton in their presentation of this Soviet best seller, both the "authorized" edition (Dutton's) and the "unauthorized" (Praeger's) will appear almost simultaneously. There has been considerable advance attention on what appears to be as much of a publishing cause celebre here as the original appearance of the book in Russia. Without entering into the scrimmage, or dismissing it as a plague on both your houses, we will limit ourselves to a few facts. Royalties from the "unauthorized" edition will go to the International Rescue Committee; Dutton with their contracted edition is adhering to copyright conventions. The Praeger edition has two translators and one of them is the translator of Doctor Zhivago Dutton's translator, Ralph Parker, has been stigmatized by Praeger as "an apologist for the Soviet regime". To the untutored eye, the Dutton translation seems a little more literary, the Praeger perhaps closer to the rather primitive style of the original. The book itself is an account of one day in the three thousand six hundred and fifty three days of the sentence to be served by a carpenter, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. (Solzhenitsyn was a political prisoner.) From the unrelenting cold without, to the conditions within, from the bathhouse to the latrine to the cells where survival for more than two weeks is impossible, this records the hopeless facts of existence as faced by thousands who went on "living like this, with your eyes on the ground". The Dutton edition has an excellent introduction providing an orientation on the political background to its appearance in Russia by Marvin Kalb. All involved in its publication (translators, introducers, etc.) claim for it great "artistic" values which we cannot share, although there is no question of its importance as a political and human document and as significant and tangible evidence of the de-Stalinization program.

Pub Date: June 15, 1963

ISBN: 0451228146

Page Count: 181

Publisher: Praeger

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1963

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet