“Had no one in the Kremlin or the power ministries read Tolstoy?” Bird asks. Evidently not. Readers innocent of the Caucasus...

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TO CATCH A TARTAR

NOTES FROM THE CAUCASUS

An eye-opening account of the long-running war between Russia and Chechnya.

A decade ago, as former British freelance journalist Bird’s account opens, that war was being waged in the streets of Moscow, as Chechen gangsters battled over turf and Muscovite landlords posted signs that instructed “those who were LKN—the insulting Russian initials which stand for those of ‘Caucasus National Appearance’—not to bother enquiring.” Successful in transferring as a news stringer to Chechnya proper, Bird finds the war a far bloodier reality there, as Russian troops try to suppress an independence movement that, in one form or another, has been resisting them for 400 years. In Grozny, Bird encounters the legendary leader and sometime president Jakhar Dudayev, who enjoys the role of philosopher king (Q: “Not one state officially recognizes the Republic of Chechnya. Doesn’t this disturb you?” A: “I’m completely calm, you’re not mistaken. It wouldn’t be worth having a complex over this”). The war that Bird details is bloody, messy, unnecessary, and with a logic of its own; Russian commanders ignore orders from Russian President Yeltsin commanding them to stop bombing civilians, while Chechen fighters resign themselves to accepting the constancy of slaughter; as one remarks to Bird as Russian columns advance into Chechnya, “Of course there will be a partisan war. It’s very simple—either we die fighting or, as you can see . . . we die anyway.” Die they do, as do Russian draftees by the hundreds. The carnage continues: as Bird notes, after having been fought to a draw, the Russian Army invaded Chechnya anew in 1999, which Bird likens to an American president’s resuming the war in Vietnam in 1978. Yeltsin’s successor, Vladimir Putin, has put the task of breaking the country in the hands of the KGB’s secret-police descendants. And the war goes on, in Grozny and Moscow and points between.

“Had no one in the Kremlin or the power ministries read Tolstoy?” Bird asks. Evidently not. Readers innocent of the Caucasus will learn much from his pages.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2004

ISBN: 0-7195-6506-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: John Murray/Trafalgar

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2004

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Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis...

THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE

50TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION

Privately published by Strunk of Cornell in 1918 and revised by his student E. B. White in 1959, that "little book" is back again with more White updatings.

Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis (whoops — "A bankrupt expression") a unique guide (which means "without like or equal").

Pub Date: May 15, 1972

ISBN: 0205632645

Page Count: 105

Publisher: Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1972

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Analyzing his craft, a careful craftsman urges with Thoreauvian conviction that writers should simplify, simplify, simplify.

SEVERAL SHORT SENTENCES ABOUT WRITING

New York Times columnist and editorial board member delivers a slim book for aspiring writers, offering saws and sense, wisdom and waggery, biases and biting sarcasm.

Klinkenborg (Timothy; or, Notes of an Abject Reptile, 2006), who’s taught for decades, endeavors to keep things simple in his prose, and he urges other writers to do the same. (Note: He despises abuses of the word as, as he continually reminds readers.) In the early sections, the author ignores traditional paragraphing so that the text resembles a long free-verse poem. He urges readers to use short, clear sentences and to make sure each one is healthy before moving on; notes that it’s acceptable to start sentences with and and but; sees benefits in diagramming sentences; stresses that all writing is revision; periodically blasts the formulaic writing that many (most?) students learn in school; argues that knowing where you’re headed before you begin might be good for a vacation, but not for a piece of writing; and believes that writers must trust readers more, and trust themselves. Most of Klinkenborg’s advice is neither radical nor especially profound (“Turn to the poets. / Learn from them”), and the text suffers from a corrosive fallacy: that if his strategies work for him they will work for all. The final fifth of the text includes some passages from writers he admires (McPhee, Oates, Cheever) and some of his students’ awkward sentences, which he treats analytically but sometimes with a surprising sarcasm that veers near meanness. He includes examples of students’ dangling modifiers, malapropisms, errors of pronoun agreement, wordiness and other mistakes.

Analyzing his craft, a careful craftsman urges with Thoreauvian conviction that writers should simplify, simplify, simplify.

Pub Date: Aug. 7, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-307-26634-7

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2012

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