THE IMPOSSIBLE COUNTRY

A JOURNEY THROUGH THE LAST DAYS OF YUGOSLAVIA

An incisive and affecting Yugoslavian travelogue from May to mid-September 1991, just as the country split up and its former republics went to war. Hall (Stealing from a Deep Place, 1988, etc.) professes no solutions for the current Balkan trauma. Rather, he offers an elegy of sorts for the promise of humanism and an eyewitness account of the balkanization of mind and action. ``Even intellectuals in Yugoslavia tend to think the truth is not only knowable, but obvious,'' Hall writes, and he unravels that in lively scenes and portraits, mostly of ordinary people but also of Serbian president Slobodan Miloevi and the wearied Bosnian leader, Alija Izetbegovi. He describes the weirdness of Sarajevo television news, the slant of the stories dependent on the reporter's ethnicity. He traces the tortured rationalizations behind Croatians' defense of their not-so-unique language. He suggests that supportive audience members give a Serbian opposition press conference the feel of a revival meeting. Hall has a good grasp of the ironies of history (the Serbs claim the legacy of both the partisans and the Chetniks, who opposed each other in WW II) and of the present (Croatia's leading antidemocrats aren't home-grown- -they're ÇmigrÇs from Australia and Canada). In multiethnic Bosnia, the microcosm of Yugoslavia, he drinks local-style coffee with Sarajevans yearning for reconciliation, their cosmopolitan ``private dream'' not shared by those in the divided countryside. In Kosovo, Hall finds a bearded Albanian passing as a Serb and maintaining an eight-year secret relationship with his girlfriend from home. Only in Kosovo, Hall observes, do old rural traditions remain intact despite the ``self-vaunting'' talk about Croat, Serb, or Muslim culture. Understandably incomplete as a tale of recent history, but a worthy aid to understanding Yugoslavia's demise.

Pub Date: July 1, 1994

ISBN: 1-56792-000-4

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Godine

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 1994

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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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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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