An unconventional and original look at Czech history, examining the “artifacts of national culture,” both large and small. Sayer, a Canadian sociologist (University of Alberta, Edmonton) married to a native Czech, aims to set the record straight. His intention is to free Bohemia from the conventional and uninformed image of it as a pastoralized, romanticized, and Orientalized place far from the realms of Europe proper. His key point is that the displacement of Bohemia from its proper context “equally dislocates and deranges what we like to think of as our history.” The result is a daring and exciting book, energetically and beautifully written, and complexly conceived. Sayer pursues two tasks simultaneously and carries them off gracefully. First, he presents a history of Bohemia and Moravia during the 19th and 20th centuries. Rather than viewing this history vis-Ö-vis events in Western Europe, he focuses on concepts and manifestations of national identity and manipulations of these phenomena. Thus he lays bare the fascinating links between different periods. In chapters with telling titles such as “Rebirth,” “Mirrors of Identity,” and “Future Perfect,” he weaves together his copiously documented tale of how leaders from every period drew on Bohemia’s national heritage to further their aims. While one strand of Sayer’s narrative constructs his argument about the centrality of the sense of a national community and past and its appropriation by the powers-that-be, the other meticulously documents the material and cultural expressions of these trends. Sayer centers much of his discussion on artistic trends, especially Czech modern art, but he includes in his panoramic view everything from postage stamps to monuments and street names. Here national culture and memory are dissected in their entirety, from the grand gestures of national heroes and artists to the minutiae of everyday life. A rare “crossover” book that will appeal to both scholars and general readers interested in Central Europe, modernism, and debates about national identity.

Pub Date: April 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-691-05760-5

Page Count: 413

Publisher: Princeton Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1998

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?

A Churchill-ian view of native history—Ward, that is, not Winston—its facts filtered through a dense screen of ideology.


Custer died for your sins. And so, this book would seem to suggest, did every other native victim of colonialism.

Inducing guilt in non-native readers would seem to be the guiding idea behind Dunbar-Ortiz’s (Emerita, Ethnic Studies/California State Univ., Hayward; Blood on the Border: A Memoir of the Contra War, 2005, etc.) survey, which is hardly a new strategy. Indeed, the author says little that hasn’t been said before, but she packs a trove of ideological assumptions into nearly every page. For one thing, while “Indian” isn’t bad, since “[i]ndigenous individuals and peoples in North America on the whole do not consider ‘Indian’ a slur,” “American” is due to the fact that it’s “blatantly imperialistic.” Just so, indigenous peoples were overwhelmed by a “colonialist settler-state” (the very language broadly applied to Israelis vis-à-vis the Palestinians today) and then “displaced to fragmented reservations and economically decimated”—after, that is, having been forced to live in “concentration camps.” Were he around today, Vine Deloria Jr., the always-indignant champion of bias-puncturing in defense of native history, would disavow such tidily packaged, ready-made, reflexive language. As it is, the readers who are likely to come to this book—undergraduates, mostly, in survey courses—probably won’t question Dunbar-Ortiz’s inaccurate assertion that the military phrase “in country” derives from the military phrase “Indian country” or her insistence that all Spanish people in the New World were “gold-obsessed.” Furthermore, most readers won’t likely know that some Ancestral Pueblo (for whom Dunbar-Ortiz uses the long-abandoned term “Anasazi”) sites show evidence of cannibalism and torture, which in turn points to the inconvenient fact that North America wasn’t entirely an Eden before the arrival of Europe.

A Churchill-ian view of native history—Ward, that is, not Winston—its facts filtered through a dense screen of ideology.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-8070-0040-3

Page Count: 296

Publisher: Beacon Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2014

Did you like this book?