A moving portrait of a messiah within a so-so satire, but with just enough edge to get media and readers’ attention.

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THE MESSIAH OF MORRIS AVENUE

Hendra—a founding editor of National Lampoon; a player in This Is Spinal Tap—follows his bestselling memoir about his spiritual mentor (Father Joe, 2004) with a debut novel detailing the near-future Second Coming.

The United States is a theocracy. The Christian Right has triumphed. Mere blasphemy is a crime in this militarized and vengeful nation. The second messiah will not be crucified but lethally injected in a Christian-run prison in Texas. All of this we learn from the prologue. Narrator Johnny Greco claims to be the Judas figure here, though that’s a misnomer. He’s an aging journalist who has seen better days, which, for one thing, brought him a Pulitzer; now he works for a sleazy Internet outfit, pursuing rumors of a miracle worker in the northeast. What sets this charlatan apart from others is his lack of interest in publicity. Johnny first catches sight of him in a Connecticut court, where he’s charged with practicing medicine without a license after curing a woman’s leukemia. He gets six months. The messiah is known as Jay. He was raised in the Bronx by his Guatemalan immigrant mother; his Irish father was seldom around. Jay is not exactly the picture of ethereal beauty, but he posseses undeniable charisma, as Johnny discovers once they’ve met one-on-one. Jay has returned to “refresh the message,” he says; contemporary Christianity he finds “unrecognizable.” Johnny’s sessions with Jay are the novel’s high points—Jay’s combination of strength and sweetness is remarkably poignant. Hendra’s narrative is less compelling when he satirizes the “fundos” (fundamentalists) and their leader, the Reverend James Sabbath, who’s in cahoots with the presidential administration, which is planning an attack on Israel and Europe. Could this be Armageddon? The author relies too heavily on spectacle (a faith-based Oscars ceremony; a rally at Madison Square Garden) and miracles, though Jay would have his followers “believe without miracles.” Once Jay publicly preaches pacifism, the jig is up. His “blasphemy” is tantamount to treason, punishable by death.

A moving portrait of a messiah within a so-so satire, but with just enough edge to get media and readers’ attention.

Pub Date: April 4, 2006

ISBN: 0-8050-7964-5

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2006

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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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