Colorful, intensely observed, well executed, with lots of black humor and disturbing undertones.

STASILAND

STORIES FROM BEHIND THE BERLIN WALL

Sydney-based Funder’s impressive debut crisply renders her pursuit of East Berlin’s ghosts.

When she was writer-in-residence at the Australia Center in Potsdam, the author became fascinated by the uneasy truce former East Germans kept with their recent Communist past, which was literally all around. The German Democratic Republic’s surveillance apparatus, run by the Stasi (secret police), was more pervasive than elsewhere in the Eastern Bloc; many people became informers, while others had their lives ruined for minor infractions. Funder befriended several survivors, such as Miriam, who was arrested at 16 in 1968 for anti-authoritarian pranks; fearing prison, she attempted to cross the Berlin Wall, served time, and was persecuted for years. (Eventually her lover died, mysteriously, in custody.) A couple the author met had nearly lost their sick child, who was at a better hospital in West Berlin; her landlady was barely able to acknowledge what turned out to be a history of twisted treatment by the Stasi. Similar trials are recalled with cocky humor by survivors like Klaus Renft, once a naïve underground rock star whose band provided youthful GDR residents with “something authentic and unauthorised.” Funder also sought out ex-Stasi workers willing to tell their stories; she had a memorably bizarre encounter with Herr von Schnitzler, a despised pioneer of televised propaganda who defended the regime with undiminished vitriol. Funder shrewdly blends memoir elements with these personal histories and casts an attentive eye on the decrepit landscape with its haunting traces of the old regime, most dramatically expressed by the official effort to untangle the Stasi’s paper trail: an office of so-called “puzzle women” working to restore shredded documents in an effort projected to take 375 years. The former GDR may be out of the news these days, but Funder’s fully humanized portrait of the Stasi’s tentacles reads like a warning of totalitarian futures to come.

Colorful, intensely observed, well executed, with lots of black humor and disturbing undertones.

Pub Date: June 1, 2003

ISBN: 1-86207-580-8

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Granta

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2003

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

TOMBSTONE

THE EARP BROTHERS, DOC HOLLIDAY, AND THE VENDETTA RIDE FROM HELL

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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