A son's record of his long, wide-ranging search to uncover his dead father's army experiences during WW II. Poet and historian Orfalea attended the first reunion of the 551st Battalion, hoping to find out something about his father, but discovered many mysteries instead. Why was this heroic airborne unit sent to its destruction against a well-entrenched German unit, and why were their achievements ignored in military history? During the Battle of the Bulge, with few other units not already pinned down or shattered, the 551st was sent against fanatically determined German forces in a counterattack that lasted five days, blunted a part of the German assault, took hundreds of prisoners, and left only 110 of the battalion's 643 soldiers standing when it ended. Despite this extraordinary record, the unit was disbanded, its records were destroyed, its bravery went unrecognized, and its very existence was swiftly forgotten by the army bureaucracy. Orfalea's investigations reveal the men of the 551st to have been exuberant loners, distrustful of authority; many had served time in the military stockade. Unattached to other Allied forces, they were, in many ways, seen as a rowdy, defiant bunch and thus, perhaps, dispensable. Despite the army's neglect, the unit received the Croix de Guerre from Charles de Gaulle, and a monument was erected to them by the Belgians in recognition of their heroic efforts. Orfalea, who writes vividly and with great detail about the men of the 551st and their battles, asserts that the army, ever reluctant to acknowledge past injustice in the ranks, is still unwilling (despite the entreaties of 551st survivors and several generals) to recognize the unit's remarkable achievement. A fine military history of a heroic, hitherto forgotten unit finally brought to light.

Pub Date: March 14, 1997

ISBN: 0-684-82804-9

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Free Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1997

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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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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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