A pleasure for the armchair traveler and old Cuba hands alike—except those who’ll be maddened by Estrada’s refusal to take...




A canción de amor to a stereotyped, lovely lost city.

Estrada, the Austin-based editor-in-chief of Vista magazine, wanders the streets and byways of his native city and gathers the stories of the place. “Havana remains oddly familiar,” he writes. “Even if you’ve never gone, you know what clichés to expect, and you think of conga lines and communism, Ricky Ricardo as well as Che Guevara.” Estrada takes pains to work the middle ground between those who love Castro and those who hate him, writing both sympathetically and critically of the regime; he notes, for instance, that Cuba has the best-trained doctors in Latin America, for which the Miami anti-Castro crowd would condemn him as a fellow traveler, while observing at the same time that even aspirin is hard to find on the island, for which the government would likely consider him a counterrevolutionary. If America and Cuba are locked in a love embrace that resembles a death grip, Estrada writes that it’s because they need each other—and that “if Castro hadn’t existed, Americans would have had to invent him.” (Later, he notes that Kennedy and Castro were both corona men and wonders “how history might have changed if the two leaders had been able to settle their differences over a cigar.”) Evoking Hemingway and Martí, Che and the Mob, and other familiars, while also bringing in some lesser-knowns (memorably, the pirate Francois Leclerc, a.k.a. Jambe-de-bois, or Pegleg, who may have been the model for Long John Silver), Estrada delivers what amounts to a series of impressionistic sketches à la Eduardo Galeano, charged with meaning and emotion without descending into nostalgia. The resulting narrative flow is sometimes a bit herky-jerky, like the old cars that line Havana’s streets, but mostly it resembles a good samba and is good fun.

A pleasure for the armchair traveler and old Cuba hands alike—except those who’ll be maddened by Estrada’s refusal to take sides.

Pub Date: April 1, 2007

ISBN: 1-4039-7509-4

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2007

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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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