Uneven, but full of engaging details about a tumultuous period in world history.

A RED BOYHOOD

GROWING UP UNDER STALIN

A boy’s-eye view of life during wartime—first the Soviet Union’s vicious internal struggles under Stalin and then its horrific ordeal after the Germans invaded in 1941.

Konstantin begins his memoir in dramatic fashion, recalling the night of April 17, 1938, when his father was taken away by the Soviet secret police and never seen again in their little town in the Ukraine. The early passages of the book do a fine job of explaining the climate in which such an incident could occur; Konstantin describes an Orwellian regime full of furtive police activities, mysterious disappearances and a terrorized populace. What makes Konstantin’s recollections so captivating is his ability to effectively divide the text between small details vividly rendered, such as a trip to the movie theater, and the larger story of a global political and military struggle. Despite the upheavals that roiled his childhood, the author somehow managed to get a decent education; he refers frequently to inspirational teachers and to devouring books ranging from The Grapes of Wrath to Das Kapital. But these moments of enlightenment in Konstantin’s young life were tempered by the unbearable wartime conditions; often, as he left school for the day, he saw corpses piled high on wagons to be carted away. His mother married a Polish refugee in 1944, and they were able to return with him to Poland in 1945, happy to escape the “cursed” Soviet Union. But the Soviets soon consolidated their grip on Poland, and the family fled west, finally winding up in a UN refugee camp in Germany. As a displaced person, Konstantin qualified for free tuition at a local university, and after three more years of struggle was finally able to emigrate to “the land of my dreams”—America.

Uneven, but full of engaging details about a tumultuous period in world history.

Pub Date: May 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-8262-1787-5

Page Count: 264

Publisher: Univ. of Missouri

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2008

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 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...

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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