An eye-opening, haunting work that delineates how a vast imperial penal system crumbled from its rotten core.

THE HOUSE OF THE DEAD

SIBERIAN EXILE UNDER THE TSARS

An elucidating study of how Russia’s east was won—by hard labor.

Since the 16th century, Siberia has served as Russia’s repository for undesirables, much as the New World and Australia served for Britain. In this engaging study of Russia’s far-flung penal system, British academic Beer (History/Royal Holloway, Univ. of London; Renovating Russia: The Human Sciences and the Fate of Liberal Modernity, 1880-1930, 2008) reveals how the vast area east of the Ural Mountains was gradually settled by fur trappers, soldiers, fugitive serfs, mercenaries, and exiles, pacifying nomadic tribes already sparsely inhabiting the taiga to the north and the steppe to the south. Imperial banishment to Siberia for criminality served both to purge European Russia of “mutinous populations” and to populate the vast eastern expanse and harvest raw materials at key labor sites like the mines of Nerchinsk. Exile was severe and final, especially in the early centuries, with the victim given a “civil death” by a public ceremonial breaking of the sword over his head, flogging, facial scarring, and shaving of one side of the skull; malefactors were fettered together and marched over thousands of miles on primitive roads and many miserable months to reach labor camps. Wives and children were encouraged to accompany the men, although little did the women know of the harsh and dangerous conditions that awaited them (return was barred to them as well). Beer concentrates on political exiles, specifically the Decembrists, who, inspired by ideals of national liberalism, attempted to overthrow Czar Nicholas I in 1825. Many of them were educated aristocrats who used exile for fomenting republicanism, becoming martyrs to the causes of freedom and reform. Beer ably shows how these educated dissidents—including Fyodor Dostoevsky, whose House of the Dead lends its title to this work—transformed Siberia from a political wasteland into a crucible of the nascent Russian revolutionary movement.

An eye-opening, haunting work that delineates how a vast imperial penal system crumbled from its rotten core.

Pub Date: Jan. 3, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-307-95890-7

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Sept. 17, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2016

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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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Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

TOMBSTONE

THE EARP BROTHERS, DOC HOLLIDAY, AND THE VENDETTA RIDE FROM HELL

Rootin’-tootin’ history of the dry-gulchers, horn-swogglers, and outright killers who populated the Wild West’s wildest city in the late 19th century.

The stories of Wyatt Earp and company, the shootout at the O.K. Corral, and Geronimo and the Apache Wars are all well known. Clavin, who has written books on Dodge City and Wild Bill Hickok, delivers a solid narrative that usefully links significant events—making allies of white enemies, for instance, in facing down the Apache threat, rustling from Mexico, and other ethnically charged circumstances. The author is a touch revisionist, in the modern fashion, in noting that the Earps and Clantons weren’t as bloodthirsty as popular culture has made them out to be. For example, Wyatt and Bat Masterson “took the ‘peace’ in peace officer literally and knew that the way to tame the notorious town was not to outkill the bad guys but to intimidate them, sometimes with the help of a gun barrel to the skull.” Indeed, while some of the Clantons and some of the Earps died violently, most—Wyatt, Bat, Doc Holliday—died of cancer and other ailments, if only a few of old age. Clavin complicates the story by reminding readers that the Earps weren’t really the law in Tombstone and sometimes fell on the other side of the line and that the ordinary citizens of Tombstone and other famed Western venues valued order and peace and weren’t particularly keen on gunfighters and their mischief. Still, updating the old notion that the Earp myth is the American Iliad, the author is at his best when he delineates those fraught spasms of violence. “It is never a good sign for law-abiding citizens,” he writes at one high point, “to see Johnny Ringo rush into town, both him and his horse all in a lather.” Indeed not, even if Ringo wound up killing himself and law-abiding Tombstone faded into obscurity when the silver played out.

Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-21458-4

Page Count: 400

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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