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



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 24, 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...


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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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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