Under the “shiny surface” of Mao’s propaganda, the author ably reveals the violence and misery.




A further catalog of horrors courtesy of Mao Zedong.

In this prequel to his Samuel Johnson Prize–winning Mao’s Great Famine (2010), Dikötter (Humanities/Univ. of Hong Kong) mines the Communists’ grisly early slog to power through the lives of everyday people. The victory of the Communists over Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalists proclaimed on October 1, 1949, was supposed to bring liberation for everyone. A new orthodoxy had to be instilled in the masses, gleaned from Soviet training and Nationalist holdover ideas—e.g., a more rigorous registration of households and individuals according to class labels that would stick with them forever: good (revolutionaries, peasants) or bad (landlords, capitalists). As the police moved in to purge subversives, people scrambled to declare their allegiances to the new regime, “re-educate” themselves and denounce one another. As he did in his previous work, Dikötter wades deep into the grim reality, starting with the establishment of land reform, which helped whip up class hatred in the countryside so that laborers turned against the village leaders and traditional bonds were broken in favor of party loyalty. Poverty prevailed, the economy shut down, and suspicion was rampant: Mao warned of “secret agents and…bandits” still lurking and struck at the imperialist enemy on the Sino-Korean border in October 1950. The Great Terror ensued, followed by the suppression of foreigners, religious people, and even rats and vermin (due to a hysteria over germ warfare). The implementation of collectivization, based on the Soviet model, would seal the coffin for the masses, introducing famine and starvation. Dikötter marshals his meticulous research to show how Mao continually set up expectations only to mow them viciously down.

Under the “shiny surface” of Mao’s propaganda, the author ably reveals the violence and misery.

Pub Date: Sept. 24, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-62040-347-1

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: July 29, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2013

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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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