THE BOOK AND THE SWORD

A LIFE OF LEARNING IN THE THROES OF THE HOLOCAUST

A slim, largely cerebral, yet sometimes deeply engaging autobiography by a Holocaust survivor who has become one of the greatest talmudic scholars of the postwar era. Halivni, professor of religion at Columbia University and author of the nine-volume commentary Sources and Traditions, grew up in the town of Sighet in the Carpathian Mountains, the same village where Elie Wiesel, a close friend, was raised. He was recognized quite early as an ilui, a talmudic prodigy. Halivni recalls how his inexhaustible love for and commitment to the Talmud, his ``bastion,'' kept him alive and sane through his separation from his parents, Auschwitz and the Gross Rosen concentration camps, and some indigent early years in America. Halivni clearly explicates his approach to the Talmud, noting how he balances ``critical'' study (non-literalist, influenced by philology and history) with a very traditionalist practice of halacha (Jewish law and observance). He explains the disagreement over the latter that drove him to resign from the Conservative movement's Jewish Theological Seminary, his home for three decades. In his eloquent resignation letter, reprinted here in full and alone worth the book's price, Halivni also writes movingly of his struggle for faith after the Holocaust, observing that ``true love is tormented love . . . The task is to reach out to heaven when it is cloudy, when heaven is no longer visible.'' The memoir is often dry, and too reticent about Halivni's life in America (his wife and sons are mentioned only twice in passing), but it is laced with more than enough moving meditations on faith and the life of a devoted student of religion to make it of considerable interest to an audience far larger than the relatively small universe of Judaica scholars. A great scholar, Halivni has not written a great memoir, but he has produced a quite good one, succinct, intellectually illuminating, and sometimes surprisingly poignant.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-374-11545-1

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1996

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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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A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor...

INTO THE WILD

The excruciating story of a young man on a quest for knowledge and experience, a search that eventually cooked his goose, told with the flair of a seasoned investigative reporter by Outside magazine contributing editor Krakauer (Eiger Dreams, 1990). 

Chris McCandless loved the road, the unadorned life, the Tolstoyan call to asceticism. After graduating college, he took off on another of his long destinationless journeys, this time cutting all contact with his family and changing his name to Alex Supertramp. He was a gent of strong opinions, and he shared them with those he met: "You must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life''; "be nomadic.'' Ultimately, in 1992, his terms got him into mortal trouble when he ran up against something—the Alaskan wild—that didn't give a hoot about Supertramp's worldview; his decomposed corpse was found 16 weeks after he entered the bush. Many people felt McCandless was just a hubris-laden jerk with a death wish (he had discarded his map before going into the wild and brought no food but a bag of rice). Krakauer thought not. Admitting an interest that bordered on obsession, he dug deep into McCandless's life. He found a willful, reckless, moody boyhood; an ugly little secret that sundered the relationship between father and son; a moral absolutism that agitated the young man's soul and drove him to extremes; but he was no more a nutcase than other pilgrims. Writing in supple, electric prose, Krakauer tries to make sense of McCandless (while scrupulously avoiding off-the-rack psychoanalysis): his risky behavior and the rites associated with it, his asceticism, his love of wide open spaces, the flights of his soul.

A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor will it to readers of Krakauer's narrative. (4 maps) (First printing of 35,000; author tour)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-42850-X

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Villard

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1995

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