Although the catastrophic Russian famine and American relief efforts are not completely forgotten, this expert account...



The hair-raising account of a great humanitarian act in which the United States provided vital assistance to the Soviet Union.

Historian and translator Smith (Rasputin: Faith, Power, and the Twilight of the Romanovs, 2016) reminds readers that World War I and civil war devastated Russian agriculture because the fighting armies lived off the land. By 1920, the Bolsheviks had largely won, but the government continued to forcibly extract grain from the peasants. Then the rains stopped. At first, Lenin “welcomed the famine, since he believed it would destroy the people’s faith in God and the tsar. Revolution, not charity, would save the peasants, he said.” By the summer, faced with mass starvation and violence, he changed his mind. Many philanthropists and international charities responded to pleas for help, but only one organization had the immense resources required: the American Relief Administration, led by Herbert Hoover, who had already impressed the world with his relief of mass starvation in Belgium and northern France during WWI and then again in Europe after the armistice. A successful businessman, Hoover employed the same talents to organize a vast enterprise led by loyal underlings who oversaw the distribution chain, from docks to warehouses to transportation to the soup kitchens. A few Soviet leaders were congenial, but most believed that the ARA was a nefarious capitalist plot. Secret police harassed the Americans and arrested Russian employees but sometimes, unpredictably, helped by cutting through red tape. Local officials were usually grateful. Infrastructure, housing, sanitation, and disease were terrible, far worse than in Europe. In an often agonizing but necessary book, the author includes letters and anecdotes by participants as well as often horrific photographs, all of which tell a grim story. Starving people do not overthrow governments, so it’s unlikely American aid saved the Soviet Union, but it was a magnificent achievement—and Smith adeptly navigates all elements of the story. Except for Hoover biographers, American scholars pay little attention to this episode; it quickly vanished from Russian history.

Although the catastrophic Russian famine and American relief efforts are not completely forgotten, this expert account deserves a large readership.

Pub Date: Nov. 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-374-25296-0

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Sept. 11, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2019

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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

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Not an easy read but an essential one.

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Title notwithstanding, this latest from the National Book Award–winning author is no guidebook to getting woke.

In fact, the word “woke” appears nowhere within its pages. Rather, it is a combination memoir and extension of Atlantic columnist Kendi’s towering Stamped From the Beginning (2016) that leads readers through a taxonomy of racist thought to anti-racist action. Never wavering from the thesis introduced in his previous book, that “racism is a powerful collection of racist policies that lead to racial inequity and are substantiated by racist ideas,” the author posits a seemingly simple binary: “Antiracism is a powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to racial equity and are substantiated by antiracist ideas.” The author, founding director of American University’s Antiracist Research and Policy Center, chronicles how he grew from a childhood steeped in black liberation Christianity to his doctoral studies, identifying and dispelling the layers of racist thought under which he had operated. “Internalized racism,” he writes, “is the real Black on Black Crime.” Kendi methodically examines racism through numerous lenses: power, biology, ethnicity, body, culture, and so forth, all the way to the intersectional constructs of gender racism and queer racism (the only section of the book that feels rushed). Each chapter examines one facet of racism, the authorial camera alternately zooming in on an episode from Kendi’s life that exemplifies it—e.g., as a teen, he wore light-colored contact lenses, wanting “to be Black but…not…to look Black”—and then panning to the history that informs it (the antebellum hierarchy that valued light skin over dark). The author then reframes those received ideas with inexorable logic: “Either racist policy or Black inferiority explains why White people are wealthier, healthier, and more powerful than Black people today.” If Kendi is justifiably hard on America, he’s just as hard on himself. When he began college, “anti-Black racist ideas covered my freshman eyes like my orange contacts.” This unsparing honesty helps readers, both white and people of color, navigate this difficult intellectual territory.

Not an easy read but an essential one.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-50928-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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