An insightful history of the lives, times and works of some authors now virtually forgotten in the West, and a valuable...

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ENGINEERS OF THE SOUL

IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF STALIN'S WRITERS

A former Moscow correspondent for a Dutch newspaper conducts a literary travelogue revealing a remarkable geography and a strange, fraught alliance when the pen was not as mighty as the hammer and sickle of the Soviet Union.

“Engineer” was the Soviet profession of choice when Stalin designated his cadre of writers “engineers of the soul,” purveyors of instruction and inspiration to the reading proletariat. Social Realism, in narratives that were not exactly fiction and not quite fact but always orthodox opinion, extolled socialist hydraulic engineering and the correct means of production. Heroics, history and hydraulics were aligned in the patriotic service of the Motherland. The arbiter of the works of the Red army of writers was Maxim Gorky, the Father of Soviet letters and chief of the Union of Soviet Writers. Brigades of hacks were dispatched to distant construction sites, and popular titles included CementEnergy and The Hydroelectric Plant—those were novels, not to be confused with the purportedly factual The Great Waterways of the Soviet Union. One book, authored by a collective, celebrated the hopeless reconfiguration of Kara Bogaz, a salty bay of the Caspian Sea in what is now Turkmenistan. Westerman (Ararat: In Search of the Mythical Mountain, 2010) aligns the chronicles with the facts and locales to unearth the truth beneath the fanciful tales. The author examines the sad example of Konstantin Paustovsky, who wrote of the salt flats of Kara Bogaz from a distance. It was the era of the NKVD, Kremlin show trials and the Orwellian Ministry of Truth, and tons of offending texts were pulped.

An insightful history of the lives, times and works of some authors now virtually forgotten in the West, and a valuable addition to the study of Soviet letters.

Pub Date: May 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-1-59020-087-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Overlook

Review Posted Online: April 3, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2011

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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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