Occasionally tedious, but the author’s meticulous attention to personal detail yields compelling historical character...




A well-composed but substance-thin tale of the author’s ancestor and the daughter of a great Venetian family.

Di Robilant (A Venetian Affair, 2003) departs from the venerable Palazzo Mocenigo in Venice, once belonging to the family of the same name, now divided into private apartments, then moves into the story of the couple who commissioned the statue at the height of the Napoleonic empire. In 1787, teenaged Lucia Memmo, the first daughter of widower Andrea Memmo, a well-born Venetian ambassador, married the eligible bachelor Alvise Mocenigo and embarked on a long, rocky life as the wife of a rising diplomat. Overcoming her youthful bewilderment at living in the deluxe palazzo, depression after numerous miscarriages and her husband’s chronic womanizing, gambling and frequent absences, Lucia nonetheless made brilliant entry into the Hapsburg court in Vienna, where she was forced to stay to safeguard the pregnancy of her short-lived son. With the invasion of Napoleon in 1796 and the divvying up of Italy by France and Austria, Alvise was in the awkward position of aiding the capitulation of Venice to the French dictator. Alvise’s collaboration with the Bonapartists would lead to being ostracized socially, while Lucia’s affair with the occupying Austrian officer, Baron Maximilian Plunkett, created scandal and a love child brought up for years in secrecy. With Alvise appointed to Napoleon’s government in Novara, intrepid Lucia was enlisted as lady-in-waiting to Princess Augusta in Milan. Lucia would serve as confidante of Empress Josephine, live for a year in Paris and later become landlady to Lord Byron, who lived for a time at Palazzo Mocenigo. Through letters and diaries, di Robilant reconstructs Lucia’s life around the tumultuous events of European history.

Occasionally tedious, but the author’s meticulous attention to personal detail yields compelling historical character sketches.

Pub Date: Jan. 24, 2008

ISBN: 978-1-4000-4413-9

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 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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