Impressive reportage, a fearless commitment to seeing what there is to see, and a strong sense of history: a fine work of...



A travel writer’s anabasis through a country that is no country.

The Kurds, writes Bird (Neither East Nor West, 2001, etc.), are “an often-overlooked society that has been rocked and at times devastated by some of the most catastrophic events and tragic political policies of the last eighty years.” The fourth-largest ethnic group in the whole of the Middle East, they inhabit a huge swath of territory, stretching “through Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Iran, and parts of the former Soviet Union,” and they are numerous, with between 25 and 30 million in that region and another million in Europe and North America. Thus, Bird notes, they are the world’s most populous stateless ethnic group. History has not been kind to the Kurds; in recent years, thanks in part to the fact that Kurdistan takes in some significant deposits of oil, their country has been the object of contest and conquest among many powers. Bird relates a typical incident: the Shah of Iran had been arming the Kurds in their ongoing struggles in neighboring Iraq; yet, following a favorable accord with Iraq brokered by none other than Henry Kissinger, the Shah abandoned the Kurds, thousands of whom were subsequently slaughtered by Iraqi forces. “America is too great a power to betray a small power like the Kurds,” the Kurdish leader lamented; yet, as Bird notes, the US has betrayed the Kurds time and again, and so has England, and so have other major powers. Strangely, though, the Kurds still seem more or less favorably disposed toward the West, affording Bird safe passage throughout difficult country, where she sympathetically reports on daily life—much of it tough, to be sure, but with some surprising wrinkles (the Dohuk Kurds’ devotion to high fashion, for instance) that, in Bird’s hands, do much to humanize people who, for most Westerners, have hitherto served as an exotic symbol of endurance.

Impressive reportage, a fearless commitment to seeing what there is to see, and a strong sense of history: a fine work of literary travel, one that honors its subjects.

Pub Date: May 1, 2004

ISBN: 0-345-46892-9

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2004

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


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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For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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