Not as gripping as Conquistador, but a richly textured account of the rogue, rebel and visionary whose discovery still...

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RIVER OF DARKNESS

FRANCISCO ORELLANA'S LEGENDARY VOYAGE OF DEATH AND DISCOVERY DOWN THE AMAZON

An exciting, well-plotted excursion down the Amazon River with the early Spanish conquistador.

Levy follows his account of Hernán Cortés, Conquistador (2008), with this accessible new book, which follows Francisco Orellana’s accidental but monumental trip down the Amazon only a few years after Cortés. Orellana was second-in-command of an expedition led by Gonzalo Pizarro, one of the famous, swashbuckling Pizarro brothers, in pursuit of El Dorado in 1541. A royal cousin of the Pizarros, Orellana was just 30 years old when he was chosen to accompany Pizarro on a quest for gold and cinnamon in the unknown lands east of the Andes. Though the mouth of the Amazon had been discovered in 1500 by the former captain of Columbus’s Niña, no European had descended the world’s largest river. The two arrogant Spaniards set out with an astonishing 200 soldiers and horses, thousands of swine earmarked for food, llamas, war hounds and 4,000 Indian slave porters, and immediately ran into bad omens including freezing weather, an erupting volcano, Indian attacks and impassable forest. Pizarro had the brilliant idea to build a boat and make better progress, yet by December 1541 they had resolved to split up for survival. Orellana would advance with 60 men onboard the San Pedro and find food downriver, then return with provisions in 12 days, while Pizarro’s camp would follow slowly on foot. However, the Napo river soon joined the Amazon, and at terrific speed, so that there would be no way to return upstream—Orellana and crew were hurtling 2,500 miles toward the Atlantic Ocean. Thriving riverside populations awaited them (some friendly, some fierce), as well as mythical sightings of the Amazon women—all of which Levy ably captures in this knowledgeable work.

Not as gripping as Conquistador, but a richly textured account of the rogue, rebel and visionary whose discovery still resonates today.

Pub Date: March 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-553-80750-9

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Bantam

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 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...

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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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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