If Robert James Waller were to don homespun and ride the circuit, this might be the result. The faithful and literarily...

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CROSS ROADS

In which a Gordon Gekko-ish sinner is hauled from the slough of despondency by a very helpful Buddy Christ.

Tony Spencer isn’t a bad, bad, bad man, but he’s not a good one, either. He loves women, whiskey and money, not necessarily in that order, and though once in reasonably good standing with the man upstairs, he has drifted into the limbo of not particularly caring one way or the other; in his view, “[l]ife was a violent evolutionary gasp of meaninglessness, the temporary survival of the smartest or most cunning.” Big mistake, for when Tony finds himself in the back of a big screaming ambulance, fate pitches him out on the other side of the universe to face down—well, Dad, or Papa God, as evangelist Young cloyingly calls him. Grandmother is more sympathetic, if a touch elliptical and, well, a bit hippie-ish (“Breathe in, breathe out, be still.”), but Sonny—that is, Christ—is a born explainer, patient and in the main, sympathetic. “Listen carefully, Tony,” He says. “There is only...hear me carefully: there is only one God.” Ah, yes: Straight is the gate and narrow the path—anyone who paid attention in Sunday school knows the drift, but Young’s J.C. rolls right up to the edges of the New Age, without much evident fondness for smiting and such. Young has a very odd sensibility when it comes to spinning descriptions, serving up disturbing metaphors, such as “Winter simply bowed out like a beaten woman” (Why not a beaten man? Because a beaten woman, presumably, is more Pauline.), and odd ethnic observations (“Obviously Anglo-Saxon, a hint of something darker and finer softened his features…”). Even so, this yarn is competently (but no more than competently) spun, if ever so obvious.

If Robert James Waller were to don homespun and ride the circuit, this might be the result. The faithful and literarily forgiving might approve.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4555-1604-9

Page Count: 304

Publisher: FaithWords

Review Posted Online: Feb. 7, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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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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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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