Nevertheless: one of Jong’s most enjoyable books.

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SAPPHO’S LEAP

The feminist maverick who’s been tweaking sexual conventions ever since Fear of Flying (1973) now reimagines the life and numerous loves of the seventh-century (b.c.) Greek poetess.

Sappho herself narrates, in another deconstructive romp akin to Fanny (1980) and Serenissima (1987), at the moment when she’s standing on a seaside cliff about to “leap” to her death. Her story begins on the island of Lesbos, where she grows up a devotee of the goddess Aphrodite, who grants Sappho “gifts of immortal song.” She falls in love with the handsome singer Alcaeus, who fathers her daughter Cleis (even though he prefers boys), and colludes with her in opposing the tyrant Pittacus, which sends her into exile. This allows Jong to parade her (quite impressive) research into classical culture and legend, as the politically and increasingly sexually conflicted adventuress undertakes an odyssey at least as arduous as Odysseus’s. As Aphrodite and her randy father Zeus look down from Mount Olympus and comment on Sappho’s peregrinations, she endures arranged marriage to the moribund merchant Cerclas, then sails about the known and unknown worlds, consulting the Oracle of Delphi, matching wits in Egypt with the notorious courtesan Rhodopis (who’s extorting their family’s fortune from Sappho’s lovestruck brothers), and—accompanied by the taciturn slave-fabulist Aesop—detours among the Amazons (whose queen commands the noted singer to compose a celebratory Amazoniad), the Islands of the Philosophers and Centaurs, respectively, even the Land of the Dead. Eventually reunited with Cleis, Sappho settles into celebrity status and middle age, until a virile young ferryman rekindles the familiar flames. Much of this is highly entertaining, and the sexuberantly anachronistic one-liners are sometimes wonderful (“Unless they [men] are castrated, their brains do not function properly”), sometimes effulgently absurd (“My longing for Cleis became the worm in the golden apple of our love”). But it does go on.

Nevertheless: one of Jong’s most enjoyable books.

Pub Date: May 12, 2003

ISBN: 0-393-05762-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2003

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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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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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