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A THOUSAND SUNS by Dominique Lapierre

A THOUSAND SUNS

Witness to History

By Dominique Lapierre

Pub Date: March 15th, 1999
ISBN: 0-446-52535-9

An intriguing, albeit subjective, look at some of this century’s most interesting people. Lapierre (The City of Joy, 1985, etc.) has had the writing gig of the century. As a reporter for Paris Match, among other periodicals, he has traveled the world and chronicled some seminal historical moments. Here he recounts meetings with everyone from Mother Teresa to Mahatma Gandhi. Particularly riveting—and grippingly written—is a chapter on the last days of death-row inmate Caryl Chessman, who insisted on his innocence to his dying breath. Lapierre interviews Chessman six times and records firsthand each last-ditch effort to save the man, who eluded execution eight times in 12 years. The California judge’s call to stay the execution one last time reached the prison five seconds after the cyanide pills had been dropped into the sulfuric acid. Interspersed with the “interviews” is Lapierre’s own story, which raises this quibble: The book seems a tad self-serving at times. Was the famous bullfighter El Cordobes really a vital 20th-century figure—one of the “thousand suns” referred to in the Indian proverb from which the book derives its title—or is he a convenient, albeit fascinating, means to remind the reader that Lapierre and Larry Collins wrote a book (Or I’ll Dress You in Mourning) based on their Reader’s Digest profile of the Spaniard? Still, the book is lively and Lapierre a terrific tour guide. Besides, it’s hard to dislike an author who has used millions of dollars in book royalties to help bring medical care to desperately indigent people in Calcutta, a point Lapierre carefully annotates in an appendix that outlines the work he has accomplished there and in the Ganges Delta before giving addresses for readers who want to make donations. Memoir or selective chronicle of a century? Regardless, you’ll keep reading. (30 b&w photos)