A mishmash, but not without promise.

DISOBEDIENCE

Can an Orthodox Jew be a lesbian? Two women, one a rabbi’s daughter, find different solutions to the problem.

Hendon, the setting for British Alderman’s debut—and Orange Prize finalist—is a London suburb with a large Orthodox Jewish community. Its rabbi, the scholarly, charismatic Krushka, is dying. He is being cared for by his nephew Dovid, also a rabbi, and the man already chosen to succeed Krushka by synagogue board president Hartog, who sees Dovid as submissive and malleable. The fly in the ointment is Dovid’s wife, Esti, a woman quiet to the point of eccentricity. The other female troublemaker is Krushka’s 32-year-old estranged daughter, Ronit, who’s been living in New York since her father sent her there to complete her schooling. The flamboyant Ronit’s brief return from New York provides the match for the tinderbox. Ronit and Esti were not just schoolgirls together; they were lovers. Each woman is still attracted primarily to her own gender, though Ronit has been having an affair with her New York boss, a married man. She has renounced the Orthodox world and its stifling expectations of conformity (“Orthodox Jew Barbie: comes complete with Orthodox Ken”), while Esti has remained true to her religion, though she is eager to resume her relationship with Ronit. What follows is a complicated dance involving the two women and the gentle, good-humored Dovid. Each chapter begins with a page of lucid commentary on the scriptures, which put the protagonists’ floundering in a religious context. However, their Olympian tone is an intrusive feature in a novelistic landscape of satire and character development. Thus, although there are effective scenes (the attempt by the villainous Hartog to bribe Ronit to stay away from the hesped, or memorial service, and Esti’s uncharacteristic “outing” of herself at the service), they don’t combine to form a satisfying narrative flow.

A mishmash, but not without promise.

Pub Date: Sept. 6, 2006

ISBN: 0-7432-9156-5

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Touchstone/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 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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This book sings with the terrible silence of dead civilizations in which once there was valor.

THINGS FALL APART

Written with quiet dignity that builds to a climax of tragic force, this book about the dissolution of an African tribe, its traditions, and values, represents a welcome departure from the familiar "Me, white brother" genre.

Written by a Nigerian African trained in missionary schools, this novel tells quietly the story of a brave man, Okonkwo, whose life has absolute validity in terms of his culture, and who exercises his prerogative as a warrior, father, and husband with unflinching single mindedness. But into the complex Nigerian village filters the teachings of strangers, teachings so alien to the tribe, that resistance is impossible. One must distinguish a force to be able to oppose it, and to most, the talk of Christian salvation is no more than the babbling of incoherent children. Still, with his guns and persistence, the white man, amoeba-like, gradually absorbs the native culture and in despair, Okonkwo, unable to withstand the corrosion of what he, alone, understands to be the life force of his people, hangs himself. In the formlessness of the dying culture, it is the missionary who takes note of the event, reminding himself to give Okonkwo's gesture a line or two in his work, The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger.

This book sings with the terrible silence of dead civilizations in which once there was valor.

Pub Date: Jan. 23, 1958

ISBN: 0385474547

Page Count: 207

Publisher: McDowell, Obolensky

Review Posted Online: April 23, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1958

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