A fitting capstone to a distinguished literary life and an exposition of one of the main flaws of communism—that “the...

MY CRAZY CENTURY

From the Nazi concentration camps to the communist show trials, Klíma (No Saints or Angels, 2001, etc.) shines a vibrant light on the machinery of oppression and the struggles of artists and intellectuals to subvert government control.

For decades, the author was one of Czechoslovakia’s most prolific and influential writers of samizdat, but he has never told his own story in such detail. After miraculously surviving Theresienstadt, he enthusiastically joined the Communist Party (“It was as if the walls of the fortress where I had been forced to spend part of my childhood had hindered me from seeing the world in its true colors”) and decided to pursue writing. The travails of his father, an engineer prosecuted for running a factory that failed to meet its production quota, and the growing sense of paranoia in the literary and publishing communities in which he was beginning to establish himself gradually opened his eyes to the futility of communism, “a nefarious confederacy that in the name of grand objectives stole the property of society and destroyed what it had taken generations to create.” More than a memoir, the book is the intellectual history of a city and a memorial to its inhabitants, who, laboring underground, kept the idea of democracy alive after the Prague Spring. Encompassing all the major journals, movements and personalities who shaped Prague’s cultural and artistic life in the latter half of the 20th century, the author also touches on some of the themes—tension with Slovakia, postwar depopulation and stagnation of the countryside, the ongoing struggle to integrate gypsies and other minorities—that continue to shape the Czech Republic’s identity.

A fitting capstone to a distinguished literary life and an exposition of one of the main flaws of communism—that “the betrayal of intelligence leads to the barbarization of everyone.”

Pub Date: Nov. 4, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-8021-2170-7

Page Count: 576

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: Oct. 20, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2013

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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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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