A rising star among Latin writers, Halfon is a lively traveling companion, even at his most pessimistic.


With this sly, quietly penetrating account of life on the road—a quasi-fictional journey containing sharp reflections on his Jewish ancestry—gifted young Guatemalan writer Halfon picks up where he left off with his acclaimed The Polish Boxer (2012).

The narrator declares himself a "retired" Jew who "can't imagine a prayer, any prayer, having a meaning more profound than a mother's good-night kiss." During a visit to Jerusalem to attend his rigidly observant sister's wedding, he feels nothing when he touches the Western Wall. But for all his coldness toward religion, and his claim that "every journey is meaningless," this descendent of Polish and Lebanese grandparents is inspired by his travels and moved by his far-flung encounters with people who radiate belief. They include a Harlem woman who hosts private jazz concerts in her apartment "as a way of surviving Sundays," having lost her son; self-sufficient coffee growers in Guatemala who believe the quality of their beans reflects their own inner values; and, in her own way, a flight attendant he runs into in Israel with whom he's had an oddly erotic encounter in the past. One of this author's special attributes is never forcing meaning on his experiences, letting us judge the mundane factor of certain moments. But he's also great at reversing our initial impressions of people and places. A stone-faced border guard who denies the narrator passage into Belize shows different colors in a barroom. In the end, Halfon says, "Everyone decides how to save themselves." We can only be happy he decided to become a writer.

A rising star among Latin writers, Halfon is a lively traveling companion, even at his most pessimistic.

Pub Date: Oct. 14, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-934137-82-6

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Bellevue Literary Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 9, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2014

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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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