A linked set of modern parables, some more successful than others.

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THE LAST LEAF

In Schulte’s debut novel, a dying man shares lessons about faith and life with his grandson.

The story begins in the hospice room of a wise old man who’s accepted his impending death. When an attendant says that they want to make his space more “cheery and comfortable,” he merely responds, “Bah. One should spend his last days in reflection, not pleasure. We should embrace the end, not avoid it.” When his grandson, Kevin, comes to visit, he tells him how his own life was powerfully transformed by embracing Christianity. He also gives Kevin a set of numbered notebooks in a briefcase. In each, Kevin finds a single story. At first, he believes the books to be journals, but he quickly realizes that the main character of the first tale—a man who becomes consumed by greed—doesn’t resemble his grandfather at all. “No, it never happened,” the old man explains. “But…I imagined how my life might go.” Kevin reads the remaining tales in his grandparent’s presence, and each introduces a new alter ego and addresses a different theme: “Wealth,” “Career,” “Pleasure,” “Shame,” “Family,” and others. His grandfather takes on the personae of a lonely prisoner in isolation, a hotshot businessman who loses all his material possessions, and even a young man who’s committed murder; the stories aren’t based on real events, but they do draw on lessons that the elderly man learned throughout his life. Readers may find that the novel’s central conceit—stories of roads not taken—offers an intriguing variation on the idea of a deathbed confession, but in practice, the stories tend to blur together. They rush to drive home lessons about faith, and several (such as “Wealth,” “Career,” and “Pleasure”) deal with similar themes that might have been more powerful if they were presented in a single story. There are standout chapters, however; “Shame,” for example, delivers a truly moving depiction of schoolyard bullying, and “Family” arrives at a unique and unexpected moral: “Family is important but not worth dedicating one’s life to.”

A linked set of modern parables, some more successful than others.

Pub Date: April 2, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-973616-78-8

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Westbow Press

Review Posted Online: July 24, 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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Though gripping, even moving at times, the novel doesn’t do justice to the solemn history from which it is drawn.

CILKA'S JOURNEY

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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