Good reading for students of China and world politics.

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BAD ELEMENTS

CHINESE REBELS FROM LOS ANGELES TO BEIJING

A global look at the movements, great and small, that keep the Central Committee awake at night.

China, writes Buruma (The Missionary and the Libertine, 2000, etc.), is a nation of walls: the Great Wall, more effective as a symbol than as a barrier against barbarians; the walls of countless prisons; and the Democracy Wall, an unpretentious, gray brick structure on which, in 1979, an electrician posted demands for political reforms. Soon torn down, the last wall “became part of a silent history, suppressed by the government but kept alive among Chinese in exile.” Those exiles number in the millions (and tens of millions more, if you count the residents of Taiwan and Hong Kong); once separated by oceans and ideologies, they are coming into closer contact thanks to the Internet, which has kept even accidental resistance movements—such as Falun Gong (whose key texts, Buruma writes, “range from the zany to the banal”)—in the international eye. What is more, he suggests, the unblinking eye of the World Wide Web has helped rein in the Beijing government somewhat, keeping it from reiterating the excesses of, say, the Tiananmen Square massacre and the Cultural Revolution. Among the many dissidents Buruma interviews are Wu’er Kaixi, one of the most charismatic leaders of the 1989 student revolt, who is now living in exile in Taipei; Chai Ling, another presence at Tiananmen Square, who, along with many other prominent rebels (including the journalist Liu Binyan), now lives in New Jersey; and Fang Lizhi, now an Arizona-based astrophysicist, who shocked Chinese chauvinists by his call for a “total westernization” of Chinese political culture—which, Buruma writes, is now “post-totalitarian” but still far from democratic.

Good reading for students of China and world politics.

Pub Date: Nov. 27, 2001

ISBN: 0-679-45768-2

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2001

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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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