Engaging cross-cultural tale of ancient peoples and modern desires.



Fusion of geological treatise and adventure yarn, exploring the mysteries of Central American jade.

During his research about explorer Alexander von Humboldt, Helferich (Humboldt’s Cosmos, 2005, etc.) learned about jade’s importance to pre-Columbian societies: “To peoples such as the Maya, jade was not only heartbreakingly beautiful but supremely powerful.” Over time, archaeological expeditions revealed a trail of discoveries that proved the Mesoamericans used jade to create objects for every purpose, and even considered it to have mystical powers. Yet the sources of the mineral remained lost. Through much of the 20th century, adventurers like Edward Thompson, who recovered more than 5,000 jades from a sacred Mayan well in 1909, added to the historical record while shamelessly shipping their finds off to sponsors and museums like the Peabody, without solving this fundamental mystery. In the early 1970s, an American speculator named Jay Ridinger impulsively relocated to San Miguel, Mexico, and became intrigued by the idea of searching for jade. Ridinger would be credited with the revival of the Central American jade industry, although for years it appeared a fool’s errand, especially considering that only certain types of Asian jade were then considered valuable. (Helferich notes that in both Olmec and Chinese cultures, jade “was considered nothing less than virtue incarnate.”) In Guatemala, Ridinger and his prospecting partner (who eventually became his wife, and continues to run their business) were regarded as “idiotas, outlandish but harmless”—until they found a jade deposit near the Motagua River and purchased the surrounding acreage. Despite numerous setbacks, including the threat of civil war, the Ridingers eventually established a business, creating new carvings that represented jade’s “deep history and its ties to the great civilizations of the past.” Helferich delivers a lively narrative, notwithstanding passages focused on the scientific minutiae underlying the Ridingers’ improbable success.

Engaging cross-cultural tale of ancient peoples and modern desires.

Pub Date: Dec. 6, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-7627-6351-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Lyons Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 11, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 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...


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 Churchill-ian view of native history—Ward, that is, not Winston—its facts filtered through a dense screen of ideology.


Custer died for your sins. And so, this book would seem to suggest, did every other native victim of colonialism.

Inducing guilt in non-native readers would seem to be the guiding idea behind Dunbar-Ortiz’s (Emerita, Ethnic Studies/California State Univ., Hayward; Blood on the Border: A Memoir of the Contra War, 2005, etc.) survey, which is hardly a new strategy. Indeed, the author says little that hasn’t been said before, but she packs a trove of ideological assumptions into nearly every page. For one thing, while “Indian” isn’t bad, since “[i]ndigenous individuals and peoples in North America on the whole do not consider ‘Indian’ a slur,” “American” is due to the fact that it’s “blatantly imperialistic.” Just so, indigenous peoples were overwhelmed by a “colonialist settler-state” (the very language broadly applied to Israelis vis-à-vis the Palestinians today) and then “displaced to fragmented reservations and economically decimated”—after, that is, having been forced to live in “concentration camps.” Were he around today, Vine Deloria Jr., the always-indignant champion of bias-puncturing in defense of native history, would disavow such tidily packaged, ready-made, reflexive language. As it is, the readers who are likely to come to this book—undergraduates, mostly, in survey courses—probably won’t question Dunbar-Ortiz’s inaccurate assertion that the military phrase “in country” derives from the military phrase “Indian country” or her insistence that all Spanish people in the New World were “gold-obsessed.” Furthermore, most readers won’t likely know that some Ancestral Pueblo (for whom Dunbar-Ortiz uses the long-abandoned term “Anasazi”) sites show evidence of cannibalism and torture, which in turn points to the inconvenient fact that North America wasn’t entirely an Eden before the arrival of Europe.

A Churchill-ian view of native history—Ward, that is, not Winston—its facts filtered through a dense screen of ideology.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-8070-0040-3

Page Count: 296

Publisher: Beacon Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2014

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