Where I share my love of books with reviews, features, giveaways and memes. Family and needlepoint are thrown in from time to time.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Book Review: The Thief of Auschwitz by Jon Clinch (w/Excerpt and Giveaway!)

Title: The Thief of Auschwitz
Author: Jon Clinch

About the Book: "The camp at Auschwitz took one year of my life, and of my own free will I gave it another four."

So begins The Thief of Auschwitz, the much-anticipated new novel from Jon Clinch, award-winning author of Finn and Kings of the Earth.

In The Thief of Auschwitz, Clinch steps for the first time beyond the deeply American roots of his earlier books to explore one of the darkest moments in mankind’s history—and to do so with the sympathy, vision, and heart that are the hallmarks of his work.

Told in two intertwining narratives, The Thief of Auschwitz takes readers on a dual journey: one into the death camp at Auschwitz with Jacob, Eidel, Max, and Lydia Rosen; the other into the heart of Max himself, now an aged but extremely vital—and outspoken—survivor. Max is a renowned painter, and he’s about to be honored with a retrospective at the National Gallery in Washington. The truth, though, is that he’s been keeping a crucial secret from the art world—indeed from the world at large, and perhaps even from himself—all his life long.

The Thief of Auschwitz reveals that secret, along with others that lie in the heart of a family that’s called upon to endure—together and separately—the unendurable.

My Thoughts: This is one of those books that I don't know where to begin in trying to review it.  The subject matter is of such significance, that my meager words will pale greatly in comparison.  

Max is only 14 years old when his family is taken to Auschwitz.  They had been moving from place to place for awhile, only putting off what I believe they knew was inevitable.  They lose Lydia the first day there, as children aren't consider viable.  Max is only saved due to his size - he is able to pass for 18 and so gets to live. The men are split from the women, so Eidel is sent to one side of the camp and Max and Jacob to the other.  Jacob realizes that Lydia has been killed, and so Eidel also thinks the same fate has befallen Max.  It isn't until she is able to bribe some information from a delivery man that she discovers that Max is alive.

The story is told by Max, when he is an old man living in America, and also by Jacob, Eidel and others in the death camp.  At once we understand the futility of the life they are living, but at the same time we are given hope because we know that Max has survived.  This story tells what Max's family endures in order for him to survive, and how much a family is willing to go through, with only hope to go on, that one of them might outlast the atrocities that they face day to day.

~I received a complimentary ecopy of The Thief of Auschwitz from Kelley and Hall Book Publicity in exchange for my unbiased review.~

About this author

:  Born and raised in the remote heart of upstate New York, Jon Clinch has been an English teacher, a metalworker, a folksinger, an illustrator, a typeface designer, a housepainter, a copywriter, and an advertising executive.

His new novel, The Thief of Auschwitz, is due on January 15, 2013 on his own imprint, unmediated ink.Howard Frank Mosher, author of Walking to Gatlinburg, calls the book "the best and most powerful work of fiction ever written about the Holocaust.”

Clinch's first novel, Finn—the secret history of Huckleberry Finn’s father—was named an American Library Association Notable Book and was chosen as one of the year's best books by the Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune, and the Christian Science Monitor. It won the Philadelphia Athenaeum Literary Award and was shortlisted for the Sargent First Novel Prize.

His second novel, Kings of the Earth—a powerful tale of life, death, and family in rural America, based on a true story—was named a best book of the year by the Washington Post and led the 2010 Summer Reading List at O, The Oprah Magazine.

Clinch has lectured and taught widely, in settings as varied as the National Council of Teachers of English, Williams College, the Mark Twain House and Museum, and Pennsylvania State University. In 2008 he organized a benefit reading for the financially-ailing Twain House—enlisting such authors as Tom Perrotta, Stewart O’Nan, and Robert Hicks—an event that literally saved the house from bankruptcy. A native of upstate New York, Jon lives with his wife in the Green Mountains of Vermont. They have one daughter.

Excerpt from The Thief of Auschwitz
The camp at Auschwitz took one year of my life, and of my own free will I gave it another four.

This was 1942. I was fourteen years old but tall for my age, and I’d spent a lot of time outdoors, so I lied and I got away with it. My father and I passed through that barbed wire gate and presto, I was eighteen. It was his idea, and if I hadn’t followed through on it they’d have been done with me in an hour, not a year. Maybe less than that. I was just a boy, after all. I was too young to be of any use.

That little white lie makes me eighty-eight years old now. I don’t mind. My Social Security card lies and so does my driver’s license, not that I drive anymore. You don’t drive in New York unless you’re some kind of a nut.
The last time one of the art magazines came around and asked me what I thought about some young Turk—it doesn’t matter who; I don’t even remember myself—what showed up in print sounded a whole lot like you ought to forgive old Rosen, since he’ll be turning ninety in a couple of years after all. Maybe he’s going blind.

Old Max Rosen.

Sympathetic, cantankerous, worn-out old Max.

King of the old-school representationalists.

The last believer in looking at things the way they are, and reporting back.

The clock built high into the station wall is painted on, a clumsy and heartless trompe-l’oeil that under ordinary circumstances wouldn’t fool a soul, but those who pass beneath it have too much on their minds to look closely. If any one of them so much as glances up, some mother raising her eyes above the scuffle and the crowd for just an instant, she sees an ordinary railroad station clock and is reassured by it—reassured the same way that she is reassured by the crisply lettered signs hanging overhead and by the gaily painted flower boxes bursting with pansies beneath each station window. Reassured that all is well. That the train has stopped at an ordinary station and that she and her family have arrived at an ordinary village. That the rumors she has heard can’t possibly be true.

Those who actually check the time are men, mainly. Two or three of them per car and no more, individuals who pride themselves on leading lives of regularity and precision. Shipping agents and clerks and shopkeepers, men of commerce, each fingering his vest pocket or raising his wrist to compare this public information with his own private store. Half past three says the station clock. Half past three will have to do, for these orderly men are surprised once again to remember that they’ve bartered away their watches in recent weeks or sewn them into the linings of their overcoats or otherwise set them aside. They shake their heads—what slow learners they’ve become!—and they move on. Keeping up. The clock says half past three. There is no time to waste.

Among those who don’t look up at all are the four members of the Rosen family. The parents, Jacob and Eidel. The children, Max and Lydia. Like everyone else in their car, they’ve been under way for three days or perhaps four. Not really traveling so much as waiting to travel, locked in the cars and anticipating movement and dreading it at the same time, for with each lurch forward the train has taken them another step toward a destination known only to itself.

Their journey began eighteen months prior and barely a hundred miles away, high among the highest ranges of the Carpathian mountains, in the resort town of Zakopane. It was the place of Jacob’s birth, which meant that he’d be a long time seeing how very beautiful it was. He’d need help, in fact. The help of a girl, which is often the way these things go. Beauty of any sort had never been much in his line to begin with. He’d been a hiker during his youth and early manhood, but strictly for the exercise. Although his friends knew the name of every peak and the song of every bird and the chatter of every squirrel, Jacob Rosen cataloged only the most difficult routes from one destination to the next. It was never a walk in the woods for him. It was always a test.

At home he’d stand in the corner of his father’s shop, drinking the last of the water from his canteen and watching the old man’s hands as he trimmed the hair of a vacationer from Warsaw or Krakow. Listening to the stranger rhapsodize about the fields of undulating crocuses that he and his wife had discovered blooming in some alpine valley just this very morning. Thinking that this great lump of a tourist, sitting beneath a crisp white sheet as if masquerading as a mountain himself, sounded like a man who’d never seen a crocus before. Worse than that. Like the man who’d invented them.

As years went by, Jacob’s father taught him what he needed to know about running the shop, including how best to endure men like these. He said you don’t want word getting out that young Rosen has no respect for the people who constitute his trade. A reputation like that would be trouble enough right there in the town, but imagine if people began telling tales back in Warsaw. Saying, visit Zakopane if you must, but get your hair trimmed before you go! Young Rosen would just as soon take your ears off! It would be the end of everything that his father had built in this life.

More years had gone by and the old man had passed away and the shop was in Jacob’s hands when Eidel arrived, Eidel Mankowicz from Warsaw, here for a month’s skiing with her parents and her three younger sisters. She’d never seen a place even half so beautiful. She couldn’t get enough of it. The truth was that she could barely bring herself to come indoors, and late one afternoon as Jacob trimmed her father’s hair she waited outside the shop, utterly rapt and completely indifferent to what was going on inside, caught up in the gathering of clouds over the high peaks, her face illuminated by the last rays of the fading light.

Inside, Jacob slipped and nicked her father’s cheek and Mankowicz said, “Perhaps you ought to turn on a light, the evening comes so early here in the mountains.” He was a hard man by the look of him, worldly but tough-minded, a lawyer perhaps. Someone with the means to bring a large family here to the limits of the Carpathians on an extended holiday. He was a hard man but he could see that this barber wasn’t going to turn on a lamp until the last possible minute, not while pretty young Eidel was standing outside his window with her face tilted up into the dying light. Not as long as he could still see her. Mankowicz was a man who understood the world, and he resigned himself to enduring another nick or two.

What was the harm? They were children. They wouldn’t be young forever.

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Book Bunny said...

This one sounds very good! :) Have to add it to my HUGE TBR-pile!

Meghan said...

Thanks for the giveaway! This one looks really interesting and I would LOVE to read it!

mestith (at) gmail (dot) com

traveler said...

Thanks for this fascinating and intriguing giveaway. saubleb(at)gmail(dot)com


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