Even for readers familiar with Cuban history, there are many discoveries to be made here.

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CUBA

THE AUDACIOUS REVOLUTION

There’s something for everyone in this portrait of Cuba as a nation full of paradoxes that seem to exasperate residents and observers alike, regardless of political affiliation.

Gedda (Dominican Connection, 2009) draws on more than 30 years of experience as a reporter for the Associated Press in this wide-ranging work that he accurately describes as “part memoir, part anecdote, part history, and part analysis.” Along those lines, the thematic organization of the book seems to mimic a series of sketches or snapshots that sometimes overlap by necessity or design, so the occasional repetition of material in different chapters doesn’t diminish its value or impact. From the outset, the author situates himself nicely, detailing the extent of his contact with Cubans while also recognizing the limitations of his perspective as an outsider. His press credentials only take him so far, but definitely farther than most Americans could hope to venture given the travel restrictions still in place and the rationing of information, a notable concept that appears throughout the text. Gedda skillfully juxtaposes the achievements and failures of the Cuban Revolution—a high literacy rate alongside compromised media outlets and limited Internet access, universal health care without basic medical supplies and a free educational system that produces well-trained graduates who sacrifice professional careers in order to earn hard currency by serving tourists. Serious problems with housing, transportation, nutrition and race relations do not escape Gedda’s view. The author thus goes beyond statistics to demonstrate concrete strategies of survival in a land of scarcity; he lists, for instance, the components of improvised brake fluid and the ingredients of a meatless dish known as “grapefruit steak.” Additionally, his inclusion of recent policy changes on both sides of the Straits of Florida suggests the potential for significant shifts in U.S./Cuba relations and, more poignantly, underscores an uncertain future for all Cubans, whether living on the island or in exile.

Even for readers familiar with Cuban history, there are many discoveries to be made here.

Pub Date: Nov. 18, 2011

ISBN: 978-1456480226

Page Count: 329

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Jan. 5, 2012

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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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Bibliophiles will love this fact-filled, bookish journey.

THE LIBRARY BOOK

An engaging, casual history of librarians and libraries and a famous one that burned down.

In her latest, New Yorker staff writer Orlean (Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend, 2011, etc.) seeks to “tell about a place I love that doesn’t belong to me but feels like it is mine.” It’s the story of the Los Angeles Public Library, poet Charles Bukowski’s “wondrous place,” and what happened to it on April 29, 1986: It burned down. The fire raged “for more than seven hours and reached temperatures of 2000 degrees…more than one million books were burned or damaged.” Though nobody was killed, 22 people were injured, and it took more than 3 million gallons of water to put it out. One of the firefighters on the scene said, “We thought we were looking at the bowels of hell….It was surreal.” Besides telling the story of the historic library and its destruction, the author recounts the intense arson investigation and provides an in-depth biography of the troubled young man who was arrested for starting it, actor Harry Peak. Orlean reminds us that library fires have been around since the Library of Alexandria; during World War II, “the Nazis alone destroyed an estimated hundred million books.” She continues, “destroying a culture’s books is sentencing it to something worse than death: It is sentencing it to seem as if it never happened.” The author also examines the library’s important role in the city since 1872 and the construction of the historic Goodhue Building in 1926. Orlean visited the current library and talked to many of the librarians, learning about their jobs and responsibilities, how libraries were a “solace in the Depression,” and the ongoing problems librarians face dealing with the homeless. The author speculates about Peak’s guilt but remains “confounded.” Maybe it was just an accident after all.

Bibliophiles will love this fact-filled, bookish journey.

Pub Date: Oct. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4018-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: July 2, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2018

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