BITTER WATERS

LIFE AND WORK IN STALIN'S RUSSIA

A memoir of life in Stalin's Soviet Union in the 1930s that tells us more of how the system worked—and how shrewd workers outwitted it—than a dozen monographs. Sentenced in 1927 to ten years in the Gulag for ``counter-revolutionary activities,'' Andreev-Khomiakov, a staffer at a provincial newspaper and a writer of short stories, was released two years early, in 1935, but forbidden to stay in 41 cities or within 200 kilometers of the Soviet border. He was fortunate enough to land in the forest industry, in charge of planning for one Neposedov, a man of splendid enthusiasms and a manipulative cunning that enabled him to sidestep much of the prescribed constipation of the Soviet system. It was impossible to attain the goals demanded of the system honestly, and Andreev captures the shifts and evasions, the bribery and falsification required actually to do the job, otherwise described by the authorities as ``manifesting a healthy initiative.'' And he describes, too, the delight of the workers when, Neposedov having obtained appropriate machinery by arcane strategems, they actually could do their work and be paid a fair wage for it. Soon the factory is exceeding its production targets by 30 percent and more. It can't last, of course, and in 1938 they are notified by the Peoples' Commissariat of Forestry that it will cease delivering timber. Neposedov tries everything, but it is the end. The whole process has ruined the forests and the lives of those working in the industry, despite, Andreev remarks, `` `all-hands efforts,' `all-out offensives,' `mobilizations,' `mechanization,' and of course . . . sacrificing millions of people.'' The final irony comes with the outbreak of WW II, when Andreev joins with his coworkers at the head office in Moscow in throwing out into the courtyard the thousands of files carefully itemizing every detail of the grand design. Andreev's humor, vitality, and mordant observations illuminate what might, in lesser hands, be a depressing chronicle.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1997

ISBN: 0-8133-2390-8

Page Count: 208

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1997

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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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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