The grand sweep of American history is writ small in this family history/memoir by humorist Frazier (Great Plains, 1989, etc.). Frazier undertook this effort after his parents died in the late 1980s, to ``find a meaning that would defeat death.'' But his project seems more complicated and self-conscious, if not pretentious: an attempt to somehow reclaim American history for himself, a white Protestant. His preoccupation with his own religious doubt, contrasted with the firm faith of his ancestors- -whether German Reformed, Old School Presbyterian, or, like his great-great-grandfather Simeon Frazier, a member of the antiauthoritarian Disciples of Christ—culminates in a strange, reductionist review of American history as an expression of the decline of Protestant faith. More broadly, Frazier shares indiscriminately with us every detail he has been able to root out: from the momentous (the arrival of Thomas Benedict on these shores in 1638 and his descendant Platt Benedict's founding of Norwalk, Ohio) to the trivial (his great-great-uncle Charles's first attempt at fly-fishing and his grandmother's showing family pictures to Tennessee Williams in Key West). The quantity of information that could have rendered full-blooded portraits of long-ago generations is lacking; the lengthy catalogs often offered (trite entries from a great-grandfather's school diary, quotations from his parents' rather ordinary love letters) seem like fillers. The histories of the Fraziers, Wickhams, Benedicts, and Hurshes do follow the outlines of American history: the push west (all his relatives ended up in Ohio); the Civil War (Norwalk was a stop on the underground railroad); industrialization (his father became a chemist for Sohio). But Frazier's prose is flat as a prairie and his humor dry as stone. Only at the end, in interviews with two colorful relatives, and with the description of the deaths of his teenage brother Fritz from leukemia and of his parents, does the tale reach emotional heights. An object lesson in the pitfalls of writing a family history for anyone other than your family. (First printing of 50,000; $50,000 ad/promo; author tour)

Pub Date: Oct. 28, 1994

ISBN: 0-374-15319-1

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1994

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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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