Less a scholar than an opinionated journalist, Porter fills her book with interviews and personal observations, producing a...




An enlightening if unsettling account of Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia 20 years after the collapse of communism.

A Canadian writer whose parents fled Hungary in 1956, Porter (Kasztner’s Train: The True Story of an Unknown Hero of the Holocaust, 2007) tours these nations, describing the sights and history in between interviews with heroes of the struggle for freedom, as well as a few villains (as in Russia, many former communist bureaucrats have prospered spectacularly). She then moves on to other establishment figures: elected officials, opposition leaders, artists, academics and gadflies. A universal vision during the heady first years of independence was an economic “third way,” a compromise between inefficient socialism and heartless capitalism. Nearly everyone now admits that was a fantasy, and that capitalism has won. Porter describes chain stores, malls, skyscrapers, trendy night life and glitzy Western media transforming formerly sleepy medieval Warsaw, Bratislava, Prague and Budapest. An unfettered free market combined with Russian crony-capitalism has produced new wealth and a large middle-class, leaving behind a growing, resentful underclass as pensions and social programs dwindle along with uncompetitive, state-supported factories. The author notes a persistent nostalgia for former communist security in addition to a few disquieting movements with a long history in central Europe but stimulated by the current world economic crisis: anti-Semitism; persecution of ethnic minorities (Hungarians in Slovakia, gypsies everywhere); and nasty right-wing nationalism.

Less a scholar than an opinionated journalist, Porter fills her book with interviews and personal observations, producing a broad and vivid but not terribly deep portrait of four nations that have been off the American radar for decades.

Pub Date: Jan. 18, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-312-68122-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Dunne/St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Dec. 2, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2010

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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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For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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