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The Tattooed Girl

A Novel

This book is available for download with iBooks on your Mac or iOS device, and with iTunes on your computer. Books can be read with iBooks on your Mac or iOS device.


Joshua Seigl, a celebrated but reclusive author, is forced for reasons of failing health to surrender his much-prized bachelor's independence. Advertising for an assistant, he unwittingly embarks upon the most dangerous adventure of his privileged life.

Alma Busch, a sensuous, physically attractive young woman with bizarre tattoos covering much of her body, stirs in Seigl a complex of emotions: pity? desire? responsibility? guilt? Unaware of her painful past and her troubled personality, Seigl hires her as his assistant. As the novel alternates between Seigl's and Alma's points of view, the naïve altruism of the one and the virulent anti-Semitism of the other clash in a tragedy of thwarted erotic desire.

With her masterful balance of dark suspense and surprising tenderness, Joyce Carol Oates probes the contemporary tragedy of ethnic hatred and challenges our accepted limits of desire. The Tattooed Girl may be her most controversial novel.

From Publishers Weekly

Apr 21, 2003 – When a reclusive, 38-year-old writer hires a near-illiterate young woman as an assistant at his suburban home in Carmel Heights, near Rochester, N.Y., he's unaware that a vehement anti-Semitism seethes beneath her tattoo-branded exterior. Renowned for The Shadows—his great early success, a novel based on his grandparents' experiences in Germany during the Holocaust—Joshua Seigl confuses his friends and sparks the anger of his hypomanic sister, Jet, when despite their objections he refuses to fire the young woman. A full portrait of the amiable, disillusioned Seigl emerges as he translates Virgil's The Aeneid, makes excuses for his failing health (he has recently been diagnosed with a debilitating nerve disease) and interacts erratically with his concerned friend, Sondra. Meanwhile, the mentally hollowed-out Tattooed Girl comes to seem a more realistic victim of persecution than any character in Seigl's historical fiction. Her soft, fleshy skin is defaced with ugly tattoos burned beneath her eye and on the backs of her hands by a mysterious group of abusive males. With scarcely a shred of self-esteem, she mumbles "Alma" to those who ask her name, "as if she had no surname. Or her surname wasn't important, as Alma herself wasn't important." She continually tries to impress her abusive, Jew-hating boyfriend, Dmitri, with little treasures stolen from her employer. Yet as she learns more about Seigl and his heritage, she can no longer ignore the dignity and respect with which he treats her. With her usual cadenced grace, Oates (We Were the Mulvaneys; Blonde; etc.) tells a mesmerizing, disturbing tale—though the little that is revealed of the Tattooed Girl's past may leave fans wanting more. Like the readers of Seigl's The Shadows, those who look for more meaning beneath the surface will be "forced to imagine what the writer doesn't reveal."

Customer Reviews


Great upstate NY story and characters.

Shades of Ignorance

On page 5, I was already shaking my head at how good this book was. Oates, while sometimes not reaching the same almost-feverish emotional reactions I get from reading her greatest books, never disappoints. And this is one of the wild and disturbed ones. Joshua, who is funny, fussy, nitpicky, another great example of a teacher/writer that seems to be prevalent in her books, decides, in the uncertainty of his changing health, to hire an assistant.
Oates expertly displays how one can form opinions based on simply what one is told by someone they love and trust. Also, she is a master at perception. Alma and Joshua's opinions of each other are so different, and yet, when you see the other from the other's eyes, you believe and see how each comes to their own conclusion.
If you want to pin down the "villain" of the piece, it is difficult, for everyone in the book has their redeeming and unpleasant qualities. And yet, with the amount of ignorance and hate, it is all balanced by a nuanced portrayal of the characters, with subtext, and back story supplying the logic and organic thoughts of each.
However, the ultimate "villain" can never be who you will expect, when Oates writes a book, and with a book with something so caustic and hateful at the core, only someone as good as Oates can turn the tables so convincingly and emotionally, getting you instantly to change sides and realign who you root for.
This book made me confront my own experiences with ignorance, whether my own, or ignorance directed at me. And in the case of Alma, or the girl I met at a greyhound station who harmlessly commented that she'd known she'd met her first Jewish man by the "Channukah(sic) on his head"; as violent or "innocuous" as ignorance can be, it has its many shades, and can still contribute to things like the events in this book. This is great, typical Oates.

The Tattooed Girl
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  • $9.99
  • Available on iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, and Mac.
  • Category: Fiction & Literature
  • Published: Oct 13, 2009
  • Publisher: HarperCollins e-books
  • Seller: HarperCollins
  • Print Length: 336 Pages
  • Language: English
  • Requirements: To view this book, you must have an iOS device with iBooks 1.3.1 or later and iOS 4.3.3 or later, or a Mac with iBooks 1.0 or later and OS X 10.9 or later.

Customer Ratings