You might strain to see the world in Blake's grain of sand, but you see Birstein's world with clarity in a short hop aboard...


An anthology of evocative stories—fortified with beguiling asides, full of unforgettable absurdities—collected on bus rides through Jerusalem.

The spate of Jerusalem violence that began last fall prompted grave warnings to stay away from the city's buses, but it is those very conveyances, plying streets with formidable names like Kings of Israel and Prophet Isaiah, that provide the movement in this brisk little volume. Some men walk the streets of Paris' Left Bank but Birstein rides the buses of Jerusalem, harvesting stories and then serving them up in bite-sized morsels, sometimes comprising as few as three pages. The result is a bus-level view of one of the most vibrant and violent cities in the world: crossroads of faith, trade, passion, and politics, all played out amid the most pungent smells on Earth. But in this winsome collection—populated by his seatmates, the mad, the maddening, the misanthropic, and the just plain miserable—the pungency comes from the people, not the spice bins of the souk. One of them yells an insult from Genesis, another speaks fondly of his prosthetic leg from Russia, a third keeps a postcard close to her bosom. And when Birstein tells us that ''the outside between neighborhoods wasn't standing still,'' he's not only speaking of the illusions prompted by motion—for illusions are at the very heart of this book—but he's also presenting us with a Jerusalem metaphor with muscle. Birstein once met a man who, in the time it took for the traffic light to turn from red to green, told him his whole life story—so it is no surprise that so much emerges from simple one-way bus rides.

You might strain to see the world in Blake's grain of sand, but you see Birstein's world with clarity in a short hop aboard a Jerusalem bus.

Pub Date: Feb. 16, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-928755-23-4

Page Count: 148

Publisher: Dryad Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 10, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2015

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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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