Very readable history of a forgotten period and a group that saved their school and taught the world to sing their songs.




A bittersweet and movingly told story of the African-American singers who introduced Negro spirituals to audiences in the US and Europe to raise money for their alma mater, experiencing great triumphs and humiliating prejudice in the process.

Ward (Our Bones are Scattered, not reviewed) begins the story in Nashville, Tennessee, as the Civil War ends and hundreds of freed slaves flock to the city. While rival church groups worked to establish schools, Ward concentrates on the institute founded by the America Missionary Association. Named after General Fisk, the head of the local Freedmen's Bureau, it eventually became known as Fisk University. By 1871, with Fisk deeply in debt and facing possible closure, George White, a devout abolitionist and music lover, decided that Fisk's only hope was for him to take a group of his nine best singers, men and women, on the road to raise money. Singing Negro spirituals, still unfamiliar to many in the North, they performed in halls and churches from Ohio to Massachusetts. Emboldened by their success but still needing money, White then took the group abroad. Ward vividly details their three lengthy tours that included visits to England (where they were guests of William Gladstone and sang for Queen Victoria) and Europe (where they performed for the Dutch and German royalty). They raised more that $150,000 (the equivalent of $2.5 million today), but it was at a cost: White was worn out, his successors overprogrammed the singers, the singers quarreled (and some left), and in the US they had to endure abuse, stay in inferior lodgings, and travel in segregated trains. But their songs were embraced by a whole new audience, moved by the melodies and words of hope.

Very readable history of a forgotten period and a group that saved their school and taught the world to sing their songs.

Pub Date: May 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-374-18771-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2000

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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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