A fresh angle and a wealth of material that will be unfamiliar even to avid buffs.

THE SLAVES’ WAR

THE CIVIL WAR IN THE WORDS OF FORMER SLAVES

A Civil War history created out of slaves’ narratives.

Veteran historian Ward (River Run Red: The Fort Pillow Massacre in the American Civil War, 2005, etc.) takes his material from memoirs, letters, diaries and interviews with former slaves, created during and after the war. They provide a rarely seen perspective on one of the key events in African-American history. Ward notes in a preface the heterogeneous nature of his sources. Some are bare-bones accounts, others wildly embellished, still others eloquent and moving. Some narrators claim to have seen Lincoln traveling the South in disguise before the war began. On the other hand, we get such eyewitness accounts as Jim Parke, Robert E. Lee’s 18-year-old servant, recalling his master’s agony over whether to resign his U.S. Army commission and fight for Virginia. The author generally pays more attention to the narratives of civilian slaves than to the better-documented accounts of men who took up arms. As the war began, many slaves were at first elated, thinking they would soon be freed; cold reality sank in with early Confederate battlefield successes. The slaves’ grapevine revealed the extent of their masters’ lies by bringing news of such important events as the Emancipation Proclamation. Some jubilant slaves mobbed the Union troops that came their way, certain they were now free. Others, Ward notes, were afraid to assert their freedom too quickly. Some were still being sold in the late days of the war. Freedom, when it came, did little to ease the lot of those still in the Deep South. The author shows the course of the entire war, giving equal weight to the neglected Western front. Except for standardizing the more blatant renditions of slave dialect, he quotes these accounts essentially as they were written down.

A fresh angle and a wealth of material that will be unfamiliar even to avid buffs.

Pub Date: June 10, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-618-63400-2

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2008

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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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A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

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WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

A neurosurgeon with a passion for literature tragically finds his perfect subject after his diagnosis of terminal lung cancer.

Writing isn’t brain surgery, but it’s rare when someone adept at the latter is also so accomplished at the former. Searching for meaning and purpose in his life, Kalanithi pursued a doctorate in literature and had felt certain that he wouldn’t enter the field of medicine, in which his father and other members of his family excelled. “But I couldn’t let go of the question,” he writes, after realizing that his goals “didn’t quite fit in an English department.” “Where did biology, morality, literature and philosophy intersect?” So he decided to set aside his doctoral dissertation and belatedly prepare for medical school, which “would allow me a chance to find answers that are not in books, to find a different sort of sublime, to forge relationships with the suffering, and to keep following the question of what makes human life meaningful, even in the face of death and decay.” The author’s empathy undoubtedly made him an exceptional doctor, and the precision of his prose—as well as the moral purpose underscoring it—suggests that he could have written a good book on any subject he chose. Part of what makes this book so essential is the fact that it was written under a death sentence following the diagnosis that upended his life, just as he was preparing to end his residency and attract offers at the top of his profession. Kalanithi learned he might have 10 years to live or perhaps five. Should he return to neurosurgery (he could and did), or should he write (he also did)? Should he and his wife have a baby? They did, eight months before he died, which was less than two years after the original diagnosis. “The fact of death is unsettling,” he understates. “Yet there is no other way to live.”

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular clarity.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8840-6

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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