A classic case of overreaching, though one that’s often moving and provoking.


Versatile Mosley tells the story of a black man dead before his time who shakes up the divine order by refusing his condemnation to Hell.

Tempest Landry is walking up Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard in Harlem, minding his own business, when a police officer takes him for an armed robber he’s pursuing and shoots him dead. According to St. Peter, Tempest deserves eternal damnation not because of the robbery—the heavenly recorder doesn’t make such errors—but because he stabbed a schoolboy who was about to shoot him, stole church funds to buy his sick aunt groceries and told lies that sent an incorrigible rapist and killer to prison for a crime he didn’t commit. When Tempest respectfully dissents, Peter sees no alternative to sending him back to earth, accompanied by a heavenly accountant who takes the name Joshua Angel, until he accepts the divine judgment. Back in Harlem, however, Tempest is no more pliable than he was at the gates of Heaven. In a series of brief chapters, he keeps remonstrating with Angel that although he may not be perfect, he hasn’t done anything all that bad either. Each chapter is launched by a new narrative premise: Tempest finds that his wife has taken up with another man; Tempest attends the funeral of an ancient family friend; Angel finds himself falling for a woman Tempest has introduced him to; the Devil, in the form of someone named Bob, appears and demands Tempest’s soul. But the core of the tale is the anti-catechism that emerges from the dialogues between man and angel. For all the audacity of his imagination, Mosley (Blonde Faith, 2007, etc.) is no theologian. He seems unaware of either the centuries of catechetical literature or the dozens of deal-with-the-devil stories that precede his own entry.

A classic case of overreaching, though one that’s often moving and provoking.

Pub Date: May 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-1-57478-043-7

Page Count: 180

Publisher: Black Classic Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2008

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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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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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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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