A well-organized resurrection of yet another lost memory of the Holocaust era.

THE HEAVENS ARE EMPTY

DISCOVERING THE LOST TOWN OF TROCHENBROD

A methodical chronicle of a once-thriving farming town in western Ukraine that was obliterated by the Nazis and resurrected by witnesses’ testimonies.

Bendavid-Val’s father grew up in Trochenbrod and emigrated as a young man, skirting the Holocaust, but the author craved to know more about the small town’s history. In 1997, he visited the area and spoke extensively to early survivors. While viewing the mass grave site, he encountered an elder who “had been waiting over fifty years for someone to ask him about it.” Bendavid-Val embarks on a journey through the history of the town, the setting for Jonathan Safran Foer’s novel Everything Is Illuminated (2002). Trochenbrod was essentially a vibrant Jewish town, with a turn-of-the-century population of 1,600. Farming in the marshland was difficult, and the Czarist army demanded conscription. Many youths emigrated elsewhere, especially to America, although there was also a Zionist movement, and even a Catholic church built in the late ’20s, thanks to Polish Prince Radziwill. The town endured domination by the Polish, Soviets and Nazis, respectively, though since the last great war the villagers believed, naively, that the Germans presented a more tractable authority than the Russians. By June 1941, the Nazis had put in place a system of occupation, terror and murder. The anti-Jewish Ukrainian Nationalists working with the Germans assured the Jews’ destruction, and during a few days in August 1942, most of the 4,500 Jewish inhabitants were shot and tossed in pits. The author ends this heartfelt account with three testimonies by people who somehow escaped that fate (only 60 survived).

A well-organized resurrection of yet another lost memory of the Holocaust era.

Pub Date: Oct. 14, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-60598-113-0

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Pegasus

Review Posted Online: July 12, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2010

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Harari delivers yet another tour de force.

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21 LESSONS FOR THE 21ST CENTURY

A highly instructive exploration of “current affairs and…the immediate future of human societies.”

Having produced an international bestseller about human origins (Sapiens, 2015, etc.) and avoided the sophomore jinx writing about our destiny (Homo Deus, 2017), Harari (History/Hebrew Univ. of Jerusalem) proves that he has not lost his touch, casting a brilliantly insightful eye on today’s myriad crises, from Trump to terrorism, Brexit to big data. As the author emphasizes, “humans think in stories rather than in facts, numbers, or equations, and the simpler the story, the better. Every person, group, and nation has its own tales and myths.” Three grand stories once predicted the future. World War II eliminated the fascist story but stimulated communism for a few decades until its collapse. The liberal story—think democracy, free markets, and globalism—reigned supreme for a decade until the 20th-century nasties—dictators, populists, and nationalists—came back in style. They promote jingoism over international cooperation, vilify the opposition, demonize immigrants and rival nations, and then win elections. “A bit like the Soviet elites in the 1980s,” writes Harari, “liberals don’t understand how history deviates from its preordained course, and they lack an alternative prism through which to interpret reality.” The author certainly understands, and in 21 painfully astute essays, he delivers his take on where our increasingly “post-truth” world is headed. Human ingenuity, which enables us to control the outside world, may soon re-engineer our insides, extend life, and guide our thoughts. Science-fiction movies get the future wrong, if only because they have happy endings. Most readers will find Harari’s narrative deliciously reasonable, including his explanation of the stories (not actually true but rational) of those who elect dictators, populists, and nationalists. His remedies for wildly disruptive technology (biotech, infotech) and its consequences (climate change, mass unemployment) ring true, provided nations act with more good sense than they have shown throughout history.

Harari delivers yet another tour de force.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-525-51217-2

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: June 27, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2018

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Bibliophiles will love this fact-filled, bookish journey.

THE LIBRARY BOOK

An engaging, casual history of librarians and libraries and a famous one that burned down.

In her latest, New Yorker staff writer Orlean (Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend, 2011, etc.) seeks to “tell about a place I love that doesn’t belong to me but feels like it is mine.” It’s the story of the Los Angeles Public Library, poet Charles Bukowski’s “wondrous place,” and what happened to it on April 29, 1986: It burned down. The fire raged “for more than seven hours and reached temperatures of 2000 degrees…more than one million books were burned or damaged.” Though nobody was killed, 22 people were injured, and it took more than 3 million gallons of water to put it out. One of the firefighters on the scene said, “We thought we were looking at the bowels of hell….It was surreal.” Besides telling the story of the historic library and its destruction, the author recounts the intense arson investigation and provides an in-depth biography of the troubled young man who was arrested for starting it, actor Harry Peak. Orlean reminds us that library fires have been around since the Library of Alexandria; during World War II, “the Nazis alone destroyed an estimated hundred million books.” She continues, “destroying a culture’s books is sentencing it to something worse than death: It is sentencing it to seem as if it never happened.” The author also examines the library’s important role in the city since 1872 and the construction of the historic Goodhue Building in 1926. Orlean visited the current library and talked to many of the librarians, learning about their jobs and responsibilities, how libraries were a “solace in the Depression,” and the ongoing problems librarians face dealing with the homeless. The author speculates about Peak’s guilt but remains “confounded.” Maybe it was just an accident after all.

Bibliophiles will love this fact-filled, bookish journey.

Pub Date: Oct. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4018-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: July 2, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2018

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