MYSELF WITH OTHERS

SELECTED ESSAYS

The scope of Fuentes' essays is attractively broad—from two elegant pieces of writerly autobiography to long discursions on Gogol, Diderot, Cervantes, and Bunuel, to an admonitory Harvard commencement address on the evils of US insensitivity to Latin America. Yet apart from the autobiographical pieces, nothing else—surprisingly, considering Fuentes' mandarin tastes and knowledges—hits home. The Cervantes essay is probably best, touching on the Erasmian revolution, the rise of the imaginary; but the other heavyweight literary pieces seem far too rhetorical, portentous: "Gabriel Garcia Marquez is the name of an American writer, a writer of the New World that stretches from pole to pole rather than from sea to sea." In various places, Fuentes establishes and re-solders a valuable point: about the essential difference, for fiction, between time and the manifestations of time—yet always in tones of basso authority and repetition ("In the landscape of the novel, Gogol draws a vast horizon perpendicular to an erect time. This horizontality has a name: Russia. This name has an object that incarnates it: the troika"). The overly rhetorical effect comes, perhaps, because few if any of Fuentes' notions could be called securely his; they're more usually suave recastings of important but increasingly disseminated theories (Bakhtin, Kundera, et al.). For all its gloss and sophisticated reach, then, a minor, disappointing book.

Pub Date: April 1, 1998

ISBN: 0374522375

Page Count: 226

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Sept. 23, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1988

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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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