A brief and impressionistic memoir that ultimately disappoints. Considering the momentous events swirling in and around the Marais district of Paris, this proves to be a surprisingly lifeless history. Karmel is the author of two previous works on the French Revolution (My Revolution, 1970; Guillotine in the Wings, 1972), and has lived in Paris for the past seven years. The book begins with a charming episode from the author’s youth: his first visit to, departure from, and return to the City of Lights. No one who has ever been to Paris can fail to empathize here; common memories will unite reader and author. But the promising beginning fades into a mere chronicle, rather than lived history. Even the recounting of a terrorist attack on the very same day as he and his wife move into an apartment is told in dry, unemotional tones that miss the obvious opportunity for dramatic evocation. In the author’s defense, he has claimed to have written neither a guidebook (although it is fairly good as one) nor a complete history. Instead, this is purely a microhistory. Karmel tells the tale of a particular house and district in intimate detail, using both as prisms to illuminate the larger canvas of Parisian and French history. The reader, though, may soon grow impatient with the minutiae of house contracts, legal deeds, and minor restorations. Notwithstanding revolutions, fires, and incompetent administrators, a house built in the 13th century leaves an extraordinary paper trail, all too diligently examined by the author. In the end, one feels curiously detached, though still pining for a home of one’s own just about anywhere in Paris. (43 b&w illustrations)

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 1998

ISBN: 1-56792-074-8

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Godine

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 1998

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


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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Bibliophiles will love this fact-filled, bookish journey.


An engaging, casual history of librarians and libraries and a famous one that burned down.

In her latest, New Yorker staff writer Orlean (Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend, 2011, etc.) seeks to “tell about a place I love that doesn’t belong to me but feels like it is mine.” It’s the story of the Los Angeles Public Library, poet Charles Bukowski’s “wondrous place,” and what happened to it on April 29, 1986: It burned down. The fire raged “for more than seven hours and reached temperatures of 2000 degrees…more than one million books were burned or damaged.” Though nobody was killed, 22 people were injured, and it took more than 3 million gallons of water to put it out. One of the firefighters on the scene said, “We thought we were looking at the bowels of hell….It was surreal.” Besides telling the story of the historic library and its destruction, the author recounts the intense arson investigation and provides an in-depth biography of the troubled young man who was arrested for starting it, actor Harry Peak. Orlean reminds us that library fires have been around since the Library of Alexandria; during World War II, “the Nazis alone destroyed an estimated hundred million books.” She continues, “destroying a culture’s books is sentencing it to something worse than death: It is sentencing it to seem as if it never happened.” The author also examines the library’s important role in the city since 1872 and the construction of the historic Goodhue Building in 1926. Orlean visited the current library and talked to many of the librarians, learning about their jobs and responsibilities, how libraries were a “solace in the Depression,” and the ongoing problems librarians face dealing with the homeless. The author speculates about Peak’s guilt but remains “confounded.” Maybe it was just an accident after all.

Bibliophiles will love this fact-filled, bookish journey.

Pub Date: Oct. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4018-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: July 2, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2018

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