LETTERS TO CAMONDO

Beautifully rendered recollections of a distant world.

In 50 imaginary letters to Comte Moïse de Camondo (1860-1935), a famed art collector and cultural benefactor, de Waal reflects on the meaning—to Camondo, to France, and to Jewish history—of the Musée Nissim de Camondo, which Camondo established in memory of his son, who died fighting for France in World War I. The author is related to the Camondo family “in complicated ways.” As he notes, “I can draw a family tree, possibly, but it would be a spider’s web” of intermarriages, with “whole branches” linking the Camondos and his own Ephrussi family, portrayed in his earlier book, The Hare With Amber Eyes. Arriving in France in 1869, both families lived near one another in a Parisian neighborhood that Jews saw as “secular, republican, tolerant, civilized”; where they felt insulated from pervasive anti-Semitism; and where they engaged in efforts “to align French and Jewish culture.” Camondo built an opulent mansion and staffed it with a coterie of servants to care for his leather-bound books, curated wine cellar, gilded 18th-century French furniture, and Sèvres porcelain. De Waal lovingly evokes the luxuriant textures and glinting surfaces of a rarefied ambience of “talk and food and porcelain and politesse and civilité”; where Camondo, born in Constantinople, strived for acceptance as a Frenchman. Yet despite his considerable philanthropy and his son’s sacrifice, Camondo could not escape the culture’s disdain of Jews as arrivistes, “social climbers, vulgarians, upstarts, status seekers, mimics. As Jews aspiring to the veneer and polish of the gratin and failing to disguise their origins.” He died before knowing how easily Vichy France complied with Nazi occupiers to rid France of Jews. More than chronicling the family’s splendor and tragic end, de Waal has created a deeply hued tapestry of a lost time and a poetic meditation on grief, memory, and the fragile consolation of art. The book is beautifully illustrated with color images from the museum and family photographs.

A radiant family history.

Pub Date: May 11, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-374-60348-9

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: March 23, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2021

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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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Certain to be controversial, but all the more important for that.

PIRATE ENLIGHTENMENT, OR THE REAL LIBERTALIA

The final book from the longtime activist anthropologist.

In a lively display of up-to-date anthropology, Graeber (1961-2020) offers a behind-the-scenes view of how a skilled researcher extracts knowledge from the slimmest evidence about a long-ago multiethnic society composed of pirates and settled members of existing communities. In this posthumous book, the author turns to 17th- and 18th-century Madagascar and examines hard-to-credit sources to tease out some plausible facts about the creation and early life of a distinctive Indian Ocean society, some of whose Malagasy descendants (“the Zana-Malata”) are alive today. Exhibiting his characteristic politically tinged sympathies, Graeber describes the pirates who plied the seas and settled on Madagascar as an ethno-racially integrated proletariat “spearheading the development of new forms of democratic governance.” He also argues that many of the pirates and others displayed European Enlightenment ideas even though they inhabited “a very unlikely home for Enlightenment political experiments.” Malagasies were “Madagascar’s most stubbornly egalitarian peoples,” and, as the author shows, women played significant roles in the society, which reflected Jewish, Muslin, Ismaili, and Gnostic origins as well as native Malagasy and Christian ones. All of this information gives Graeber the chance to wonder, in his most provocative conjecture, whether Enlightenment ideals might have emerged as much beyond Western lands as within them. His argument that pirates, women traders, and community leaders in early 18th-century Madagascar were “global political actors in the fullest sense of the term” is overstated, but even with such excesses taken into account, the text is a tour de force of anthropological scholarship and an important addition to Malagasy history. It’s also a work written with a pleasingly light touch. The principal audience will be anthropologists, but those who love pirate lore or who seek evidence that mixed populations were long capable of establishing proto-democratic societies will also find enlightenment in these pages.

Certain to be controversial, but all the more important for that.

Pub Date: Jan. 24, 2023

ISBN: 978-0-374-61019-7

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Oct. 6, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2022

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