A Camus for our time, Maalouf urges that civilization is “fragile, shimmering, evanescent”—and perhaps doomed.



The Lebanese-born French author offers a pensive, lyrical meditation on a dying world.

The author of brilliant novels and books of essays such as Disordered World, Maalouf announces his theme at the outset: “I was born hale and healthy into the arms of a dying civilization, and I have spent my whole life feeling that I am surviving, with no credit or blame, when around me so many things were falling into ruin.” At first, he means the vanished civilization of the Levant, where Christians, Jews, and Arabs once lived together but that has since collapsed in ethnocidal battles and sectarian wars. “The Levantine ideal,” writes Maalouf, “as my people experienced it, as I have always wanted to live it, demands that each person assume full responsibility for his own, and a little responsibility for others.” No more. Born in Beirut in 1949, a Maronite Christian, Maalouf lived in the Egypt of Gamal Abdel Nasser, “the last colossus of the Arab world,” who ultimately failed in his mission to unite it; in adulthood, Maalouf moved to Paris, where he has lived for decades. Egypt, he writes, “was doomed to crumble,” while Lebanon’s ecumenicalism gave way to narrow self-interest and appeals to outsiders of one’s own ethnicity for support—Arabs calling for Arabs and Jews for Jews, which Maalouf likens to various Swiss cantons calling on their German, French, and Italian neighbors for intercession, which would spell doom for the Swiss Confederation. The analogy is apposite, for the rest of the world is also suffering collapse. “In the era in which we live,” writes the author, “despair can sweep across oceans, scale walls, cross any frontier, physical or mental, and it is not easily contained.” Ideals of democracy, citizenship, environmental health, world peace, and the like now fall before nationalism, authoritarianism, and the decline of private life in the Orwellian present.

A Camus for our time, Maalouf urges that civilization is “fragile, shimmering, evanescent”—and perhaps doomed.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-64286-075-7

Page Count: 336

Publisher: World Editions

Review Posted Online: June 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2020

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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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Not an easy read but an essential one.

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Title notwithstanding, this latest from the National Book Award–winning author is no guidebook to getting woke.

In fact, the word “woke” appears nowhere within its pages. Rather, it is a combination memoir and extension of Atlantic columnist Kendi’s towering Stamped From the Beginning (2016) that leads readers through a taxonomy of racist thought to anti-racist action. Never wavering from the thesis introduced in his previous book, that “racism is a powerful collection of racist policies that lead to racial inequity and are substantiated by racist ideas,” the author posits a seemingly simple binary: “Antiracism is a powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to racial equity and are substantiated by antiracist ideas.” The author, founding director of American University’s Antiracist Research and Policy Center, chronicles how he grew from a childhood steeped in black liberation Christianity to his doctoral studies, identifying and dispelling the layers of racist thought under which he had operated. “Internalized racism,” he writes, “is the real Black on Black Crime.” Kendi methodically examines racism through numerous lenses: power, biology, ethnicity, body, culture, and so forth, all the way to the intersectional constructs of gender racism and queer racism (the only section of the book that feels rushed). Each chapter examines one facet of racism, the authorial camera alternately zooming in on an episode from Kendi’s life that exemplifies it—e.g., as a teen, he wore light-colored contact lenses, wanting “to be Black but…not…to look Black”—and then panning to the history that informs it (the antebellum hierarchy that valued light skin over dark). The author then reframes those received ideas with inexorable logic: “Either racist policy or Black inferiority explains why White people are wealthier, healthier, and more powerful than Black people today.” If Kendi is justifiably hard on America, he’s just as hard on himself. When he began college, “anti-Black racist ideas covered my freshman eyes like my orange contacts.” This unsparing honesty helps readers, both white and people of color, navigate this difficult intellectual territory.

Not an easy read but an essential one.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-50928-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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