A painfully beautiful portrayal of an indomitable, loving mother’s survival.

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MY SISTER'S MOTHER

A MEMOIR OF WAR, EXILE, AND STALIN'S SIBERIA

In this heart-wrenching debut memoir, a mother and child survive Stalin’s work camp then struggle to find inner calm in America.

As a child growing up in 1950s Chicago, Urbikas longed for a “normal” mom. Instead, her Polish-born mother, Janina, often told gruesome war stories and talked to herself in the mirror. But as Urbikas matured and suffered her own hardships, she began to understand her mother’s need to recount her past. On the extremely cold morning of Feb. 10, 1940, Communist soldiers pounded on Janina’s farmhouse door near Grodno, Poland, and informed her—a young, single mother—that she was sentenced to 10 years of hard labor. She and 5-year-old daughter Mira were stuffed into lice-ridden train cars and taken to a remote logging camp in the Siberian wilderness. Fed little and plagued by vermin, disease, and blistering cold, Janina lugged a heavy ax 4 miles to and from work every day, where she chopped thick branches off trees. Meanwhile, poor little Mira was left by herself to wait in agonizing bread lines, often unsuccessfully. After years of torture, Janina and Mira—helped by a Polish army officer who eventually married Janina—escaped to England and then America. Urbikas’ flashbacks are seamless as she alternates chapters between her mother’s and sister’s stories—written in third person—versus her own first-person account. With many vivid sensory details—like “the grainy taste of…coarse rye bread”—the author’s lyrical prose instantly transports readers to the labor camp. This gripping page-turner is also filled with stark contrasts. For example, in the camp, Mira and Janina sleep together on a dirty, bedbug-infested cot, and when Janina feels a rat scrabble across her chest, she can barely lift her tired arm to heave it onto the floor. In contrast, one of Urbikas’ biggest worries is making the majorettes team in her American high school. A realistic depiction of the effects of evil, Janina’s and Mira’s experiences are sometimes overwhelming. In one scene, a tiny girl drowns and nobody helps.

A painfully beautiful portrayal of an indomitable, loving mother’s survival.

Pub Date: April 27, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-299-30850-6

Page Count: 312

Publisher: Univ. of Wisconsin

Review Posted Online: March 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2019

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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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