The literary equivalent of comfort food in a tale of middle- aged love in Mitford, a fictional North Carolina small town: a novel that restores rather than provokes as it deftly portrays men and women caught up in the human condition. Like its popular predecessors (At Home in Mitford and A Light in the Window, not reviewed), the author's latest celebrates the lives of several Mitford citizens while offering vignettes of many more. As the story opens, 60ish Episcopalian Rector Father Tim Kavanagh has just returned from his honeymoon. A longtime bachelor, he is touchingly surprised by the joy marriage to neighbor Cynthia has brought him. Cynthia, a children's book author and illustrator, is not, however, a traditional clergyman's wife—a shocking bit of news for Tim's secretary Emma and the Episcopal Church Women. Thanks, though, to a splendid parish tea party—a tea for which Cynthia redecorates the rectory and provides delicious food—the ladies are mollified. In the year that passes, the holidays (both religious and secular) are celebrated; the community reaffirms its identity; and the deaths of the town's oldest inhabitant and of a child are balanced by the birth of twins to Tim's young housekeeper. Meanwhile, though the setting is pastoral and the people good-hearted, Mitford is as subject to change and horror as the outside world. Misogynist J.C., the editor of the local paper, amazes the townsfolk by marrying Mitford's first woman police officer; Lacey, a young girl, though badly beaten by her father, refuses to leave home because she must care for her bedridden mother; Pauline Barlowe is set on fire by the man she lives with; and Tim's faith is sorely tested and then reaffirmed. Such a small canvas framed by faith could easily be smug and anodyne, but it's not: Karon is one of those rare writers who can depict the good and the ordinary without being boring or condescending. A book to curl up with. (Author tour)

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-670-86934-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 1996

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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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