Lovers of Russian literature and music will find this valuable, and history buffs will get a fearsome picture of life under...



Independent senior reporter McSmith (No Such Thing as Society: A History of Britain in the 1980s, 2010, etc.) explores how arts and artists in Russia somehow managed to flourish despite Joseph Stalin’s iron control.

Stalin decided whose work was acceptable. If it was not, it ended up in the ash heap—unless someone, like Pasternak or Gorky, interceded. The only literary style suitable in those days was social realism that lauded the Russian way of life. There were attempts to modernize, such as Sergei Eisenstein’s addition of jazz to his films, and there were successes—e.g., his Battleship Potemkin (1925). Stalin knew that artistic success reflected on his regime, and he obsessively controlled everything, especially movies but also the music of Shostakovich and Prokofiev. Writers of poetry and plays all lived under his vigilance, as well. The greatest poets of the generation, under the eye of the censors, were never sure what would offend. Throughout his oppressive reign, Stalin had no problem sending artists to their deaths. Though he claimed that writers were the engineers of the human soul, every word written, every play or movie proposed was subject to review before, during, and after completion. McSmith shows how many persisted in the worst conditions and even returned after emigrating, for love of the homeland. Perhaps their strength came from knowing how much Russians loved the arts. Osip Mandelstam said, “there’s no place where more people are killed for it.” An epigram he wrote about Stalin was never written down, only recited twice, but the secret services still found out about it. Paranoia was a way of life. The author has a deep affinity for these artists, and his portrayal of their struggles makes our appreciation of them even stronger.

Lovers of Russian literature and music will find this valuable, and history buffs will get a fearsome picture of life under Stalin.

Pub Date: July 7, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-59558-056-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: The New Press

Review Posted Online: April 5, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2015

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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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Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.



Rootin’-tootin’ history of the dry-gulchers, horn-swogglers, and outright killers who populated the Wild West’s wildest city in the late 19th century.

The stories of Wyatt Earp and company, the shootout at the O.K. Corral, and Geronimo and the Apache Wars are all well known. Clavin, who has written books on Dodge City and Wild Bill Hickok, delivers a solid narrative that usefully links significant events—making allies of white enemies, for instance, in facing down the Apache threat, rustling from Mexico, and other ethnically charged circumstances. The author is a touch revisionist, in the modern fashion, in noting that the Earps and Clantons weren’t as bloodthirsty as popular culture has made them out to be. For example, Wyatt and Bat Masterson “took the ‘peace’ in peace officer literally and knew that the way to tame the notorious town was not to outkill the bad guys but to intimidate them, sometimes with the help of a gun barrel to the skull.” Indeed, while some of the Clantons and some of the Earps died violently, most—Wyatt, Bat, Doc Holliday—died of cancer and other ailments, if only a few of old age. Clavin complicates the story by reminding readers that the Earps weren’t really the law in Tombstone and sometimes fell on the other side of the line and that the ordinary citizens of Tombstone and other famed Western venues valued order and peace and weren’t particularly keen on gunfighters and their mischief. Still, updating the old notion that the Earp myth is the American Iliad, the author is at his best when he delineates those fraught spasms of violence. “It is never a good sign for law-abiding citizens,” he writes at one high point, “to see Johnny Ringo rush into town, both him and his horse all in a lather.” Indeed not, even if Ringo wound up killing himself and law-abiding Tombstone faded into obscurity when the silver played out.

Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-21458-4

Page Count: 400

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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