Dutiful but dim. (b&w photographs throughout)

THE FLAMBOYA TREE

MEMORIES OF A MOTHER’S WARTIME COURAGE

A new voice sings an earnest but commonplace paean to her mother, whose grit and imagination helped her three young children survive nearly four years of imprisonment during the Japanese occupation of Java in WWII.

Kelly, whose parents were Dutch, was only four years old when the Japanese invaded Java and began rounding up able-bodied men, her father among them, to build the Burma Road and forcing women and children into squalid camps. After an introduction that is a museum of clichés—her experiences, Kelly says, were like a “horrendous nightmare”—she offers a snapshot of the family in 1946: The war is over, and they have arrived back in Holland virtually penniless but with one dear possession they managed to retain—a painting of a flamboya tree. She then returns to 1942 and her Javanese life before the invasion. Her father inherited his own father’s spice company, and the family enjoyed the easy quasi-colonial life of private swimming clubs, exotic food, and cheap servants. Throughout, Kelly seems blithely unaware of the moral algebra of her situation. Was the Japanese displacement of the Dutch so much different from the Dutch displacement of the Javanese? Kelly sees few if any connections. Instead, she notes without irony, “Our wonderful servants stood ever ready with their kindly faces to indulge our whims.” Soon enough, her father is taken away and the family is arrested and confined to a round of near-starvation, endless roll calls in intense heat, physical abuse by guards, and odious physical labor. Kelly recalls the children’s terrorizing by a guard’s fierce pet monkey, brutal fights among the prisoners, and a Christmas chorus of “Silent Night.” Eventually, the family returns to Holland and an oddly cold grandmother who cannot understand why they didn’t just escape. Kelly still has the painting of the tree.

Dutiful but dim. (b&w photographs throughout)

Pub Date: April 16, 2002

ISBN: 0-375-50621-7

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2002

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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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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