A noted Middle Eastern author takes an intriguing historical, psychological, and literary trip through the political polemics that have marked much of life in the region for the last 25 years. MacArthur award recipient Ajami (Middle Eastern Studies/Johns Hopkins Univ.) takes the title of his book from T.E. Lawrence's Seven Pillars of Wisdom. But unlike that book, which was a portrait of the Arab culture from the outside looking in, Ajami's well-crafted tale is an insider's look at Arab angst. Born in Lebanon, Ajami (The Arab Predicament, not reviewed, etc.) has written a book that is at once a mini-history of the Middle East and a personal journey into the world postWW II Arabs such as himself have inherited. Ajami relies on the literature of the day as a guidepost for his journey, using various authors and poets to better understand his own life and the themes that continue to challenge his peers. He opens with a look at the Lebanese poet Khalil Hawi, who killed himself in despair the day Israel came into Lebanon in 1982. Ajami examines as well the theocratic politics of the 1980s, an era that saw the rise of the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in Iran and was discussed in the writings of Adonis, Nizar Qabbani, Abdelrahman Munif, and Sadiq al-Azm. Ajami's analytical microscope also focuses on the era that closed with the Persian Gulf War of 199091. Egypt is analyzed through the assasination of Anwar el-Sadat in 1981, and the life of the revered novelist Naguib Mahfouz, who was persecuted by religious extremists. The book closes with a chapter on Israel and its relationship with the Arab intellectual class. For those seeking a better understanding of the whys and wherefores of modern Arab life, this book is a beautifully written, insightful overview.

Pub Date: Feb. 25, 1998

ISBN: 0-375-40150-4

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 1997

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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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