Sketchy diary notes from Alexandra's final days of captivity will interest only experts and the most dogged devotees of the doomed Romanovs. The collapse of the Soviet Union has enabled publication, for the first time in complete form, of the final diary of Tsaritsa Alexandra, edited by two staffers of the State Archive of the Russian Federation. Alexandra's diary conveys the tightening restrictions (i.e., painted windows, less outdoor time) imposed on the Romanovs during their final months under house arrest. It also attests to her intense religious faith and her boundless love for her children, especially the tsarevitch. But its style is terse and dry; notations are mere jottings, and full sentences are rare. Helpful footnotes include biographical details, explanations of religious terms, and excerpts of other diaries. (Nicholas's diary, with its narrative drive and attention to the outside world, stands in stark contrast to his wife's inwardly turned journal.) This perfunctorily written text receives an overwritten presentation. Nicholas and Alexandra author Massie and Jonathan Brent (editor of Yale University Press), who both contribute introductions, assert that the secret significance of Alexandra's diary lies in its tedium: the tsaritsa's personal record of time, weather, Russian Orthodox holidays, and birthdays. Such details, Massie claims, record ``her symbolic accommodation of the new and her resistance to the destruction of a traditional order of thought, action, and belief.'' Brent's approach is guided by both semiotics and psychoanalysis; in Alexandra's recourse to a private language he finds ``a complicated relationship to herself.'' The implication is that one must read Alexandra's diary as a semiotic text encoding the clash between the old and new, the sacred and the profane. Readers who are inclined to accept this task will find food for thought in the tsaritsa's diary. Those skeptical about having to decode the diary's ``mute pathos and ironic witness'' will simply be bored.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1997

ISBN: 0-300-07212-0

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1997

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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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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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