PATCHES OF FIRE

A STORY OF WAR AND REDEMPTION

A tautly introspective, impressionistic literary memoir that fills a gaping void in the literature of the American war in Vietnam by brilliantly illuminating the war and postwar experiences of an African-American veteran. French joined the US Marine Corps in 1963 when he was 19 years old. Two years later he went to Vietnam and experienced the war at its absolute worst. Many of French's closest friends were killed; he was severely wounded. When he recovered, French returned to his hometown of Pittsburgh, tried college, and then landed a job as a photographer for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. After 13 years, he left to publish his own magazine, Pittsburgh Preview. When that magazine failed in the late '80s, French fell apart emotionally. In despair, he began writing a memoir, which eventually became this primal scream of a book. During the years it took for the memoir to be accepted for publication, French (whose first cousin is the writer John Edgar Wideman) wrote and published two well-received novels: Billy (1993) and Holly (1995); neither one has anything to do with the Vietnam War. Patches of Fire has as its core French's war-zone and postwar experiences. The author tells his story in a blistering, almost stream-of-consciousness fashion, shifting the narrative adroitly between past and present. French is less concerned with providing factual detail than with painting word pictures that bring alive his deepest emotional reactions to the memorable events in his life. The book's title, for example, refers both to the actual fires French saw after he was shot through the neck in Vietnam and to his memories about that day, when his best friend was killed and he came close to dying in a rice paddy. The most accomplished Vietnam War memoir since Lewis B. Puller Jr.'s Pulitzer Prizewinning Fortunate Son (1991).

Pub Date: Jan. 9, 1997

ISBN: 0-385-48363-5

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Anchor

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 1996

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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