COUNTRY OF MY SKULL

GUILT, SORROW, AND THE LIMITS OF FORGIVENESS IN THE NEW SOUTH AFRICA

This searing examination is a compelling achievement that considers the nature of guilt, shame, and forgiveness in post-apartheid South Africa, yet also sometimes feels exactly like what it is—a series of clumsily stitched-together news reports. For more than two years, South African radio reporter and esteemed poet Krog covered the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s investigations into crimes committed on all sides in the name of apartheid. Headed by the Nobel Prize—winning Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the commission held out the promise of complete amnesty, but only in return for complete honesty about each and every offense. Hearings were held all around the country, with victims and their families able to confront their torturers. The testimony was painfully riveting, and Krog includes vast, uninterpolated swaths of accounts of bombings, beatings, rapes, and murder squads. She details expertly the effects of such terrible revelations on white South Africans, most of whom had never thought (or wanted to think) about the true cost of sustaining apartheid; what had once seemed to them like standard-issue authoritarianism eventually was viewed as unmitigated evil, reminiscent of nothing so much as Nazi Germany. Although the Truth Commission itself has been criticized for a relatively lenient treatment of the African National Congress, Krog is not blind to the anti-apartheid opposition’s own multifarious brutalities. However, she is so focused on the particularities and intricacies of the South African experience that many general readers will find substantial chunks of this book somewhat inaccessible, despite a concluding glossary of South African terms and brief bios. Krog’s poetic and reportorial gifts often serve her well—her lapidary profundity and keen-edged analysis are frequently superb. Still, she fails to craft them into a sustained or focused narrative. Like the truth itself, a messy, imposing sprawl.

Pub Date: March 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-8129-3128-9

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Times/Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1999

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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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