A wide-angle saga that adds a chapter long missing from official and traditional histories of WW II's Pacific theater: the story of the torments endured by Allied military personnel captured when Japanese forces overran Greater East Asia. Drawing on interviews with survivors of the Japanese prison camps as well as archival sources, Daws (A Dream of Islands, 1980, etc.) effectively combines the experiences of individual American, Australian, British, and Dutch POWs with a panoramic perspective. He probes why the death rate among the more than 140,000 men interned by the Japanese reached 27% (as against but 4% for military prisoners of the Germans). By the author's painstakingly documented account, the causes were legion: inhuman living conditions, starvation diets, an almost complete lack of medical care, constant beatings by brutish guards whose (heartily reciprocated) racial hatred of whites often led to summary executions, forced labor on construction projects like the Burma- Siam railroad, and workaday atrocities. Thousands more POWs perished when the ships transporting them from the fetid jungles of conquered lands to Japan were blown out of the water by Allied aircraft or submarines. Daws provides a start-to-finish narrative, tracking the battered veterans of Bataan, Java, Midway, Singapore, and other campaigns before, during, and after their captivity. While he devotes considerable attention to group bonding, scavenging, and the other stratagems it took to stay alive behind the wire, Daws doesn't neglect the surprisingly cool receptions accorded repatriated POWs. Indeed, he reports, there are precious few memorials to Allied soldiers who died in Asian camps, let alone tributes to the brutalized, sometimes bestialized, survivors condemned to make peace with their freedom after VJ day. Overdue witness, eloquent and harrowing. (16 pages b&w photos, not seen)

Pub Date: Nov. 11, 1994

ISBN: 0-688-11812-7

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1994

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?


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

Did you like this book?