Lucid and literate: a brilliant model of historical writing about place and a beguiling treat for armchair travelers as well.

HISTORY OF A DISAPPEARANCE

THE STORY OF A FORGOTTEN POLISH TOWN

An evocative study of a town in Poland’s outback, one scarcely known even in its day.

Miedzianka in Polish, Kupferberg in German, is a place off anyone’s map: “history never well and truly arrived here,” writes freelance journalist Springer, “but instead roamed around in the vicinity.” And did it ever: the town was already old when, as the author puts it, “armed hordes begin to make their way across Europe,” some of them the soldiers of the Thirty Years’ War, others members of the SS, rooting out Jews and other undesirables in a region known as Silesia. Thanks in part to German excesses, the town became part of Poland after the war, but it had already begun to disappear, parts of it caving in thanks to the collapse of abandoned mine shafts, its streets deserted after the mining companies went under, so that even in 1840, only nine villagers identified themselves as miners. Springer points out the various enemies, structural and human, that have come calling on Miedzianka only as “the beast,” and the beast has many forms, such as the rockets of Joseph Stalin’s invading Red Army—ahead of whose arrival some villagers headed west, while the Nazi stalwarts of the town tried to escape but found no place to run. Now, writes Springer, “Miedzianka is simply gone,” marked by a rather nondescript memorial to those who lived and worked there over the centuries, a small obelisk to record the fact that here there once stood a town and a miniature civilization. Yet, amazingly, this book, published in Poland in 2011, sparked a modest revival of the town: a theater company has staged a performance of a play based on the book, while private investors have banded together to open a brewery in a place once renowned for its beer. The result, writes the author, is that “what once seemed an absolute end was only a pause.”

Lucid and literate: a brilliant model of historical writing about place and a beguiling treat for armchair travelers as well.

Pub Date: April 4, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-63206-115-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Restless Books

Review Posted Online: May 23, 2017

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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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Thus the second most costly war in American history, whose “outcome seemed little short of a miracle.” A sterling account.

1776

A master storyteller’s character-driven account of a storied year in the American Revolution.

Against world systems, economic determinist and other external-cause schools of historical thought, McCullough (John Adams, 2001, etc.) has an old-fashioned fondness for the great- (and not-so-great) man tradition, which may not have much explanatory power but almost always yields better-written books. McCullough opens with a courteous nod to the customary villain in the story of American independence, George III, who turns out to be a pleasant and artistically inclined fellow who relied on poor advice; his Westmoreland, for instance, was a British general named Grant who boasted that with 5,000 soldiers he “could march from one end of the American continent to the other.” Other British officers agitated for peace, even as George wondered why Americans would not understand that to be a British subject was to be free by definition. Against these men stood arrayed a rebel army that was, at the least, unimpressive; McCullough observes that New Englanders, for instance, considered washing clothes to be women’s work and so wore filthy clothes until they rotted, with the result that Burgoyne and company had a point in thinking the Continentals a bunch of ragamuffins. The Americans’ military fortunes were none too good for much of 1776, the year of the Declaration; at the slowly unfolding battle for control over New York, George Washington was moved to despair at the sight of sometimes drunk soldiers running from the enemy and of their officers “who, instead of attending to their duty, had stood gazing like bumpkins” at the spectacle. For a man such as Washington, to be a laughingstock was the supreme insult, but the British were driven by other motives than to irritate the general—not least of them reluctance to give up a rich, fertile and beautiful land that, McCullough notes, was providing the world’s highest standard of living in 1776.

Thus the second most costly war in American history, whose “outcome seemed little short of a miracle.” A sterling account.

Pub Date: June 1, 2005

ISBN: 0-7432-2671-2

Page Count: 656

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2005

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