THE DIARY OF A NAPOLEONIC FOOT SOLDIER

As France's empire expanded during its postrevolutionary era, Napoleon began requiring vassal states to supply troops for his acquisitive causes. Among those caught in the conscription net was Jakob Walter, a young German stonemason who marched with the Corsican usurper's foreign legions on three campaigns (including the disastrous invasion of Russia) between 1806 and 1813—and who left an ex post facto memoir of his military service, which surfaced as a treasured family heirloom in America's Midwest during the Depression and was first published by the Univ. of Kansas in 1938. Human interest apart, Walter's stolid and narrowly focused account of his life as a soldier is longer on curiosity than historical value. Drafted in 1806, at age 18, to fight against Prussia, he was recalled in 1809 for a war with Austria and in 1812 when Napoleon moved his 600,000-man Grand Army into the heart of Russia. Walter's recollections of this catastrophic expedition, from which barely 25,000 returned, represent the longest and most absorbing portion of his narrative. Totally disinterested in the geopolitical implications of either the advance on or retreat from Moscow, the author bears oddly detached witness to the hardships and dangers endured by the bootless offensive's survivors. Nor did Walter much care about the outcomes of the battles in which he fought. Indeed, the main concerns of the author and his comrades seem to have been getting enough to eat in a country with few agricultural resources, avoiding crippling wounds, and returning safely home. Absent big-picture perspectives and contextual detail, Walter's recollections amount to little more than an intriguing footnote to 19th-century military history. The text includes an appendix with six unrelated letters home (unearthed by a Soviet researcher in 1978) from six Westphalian conscripts serving in the Grand Army, plus 20 b&w engravings (not seen).

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1991

ISBN: 0-385-41696-2

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1991

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An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

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BECOMING

The former first lady opens up about her early life, her journey to the White House, and the eight history-making years that followed.

It’s not surprising that Obama grew up a rambunctious kid with a stubborn streak and an “I’ll show you” attitude. After all, it takes a special kind of moxie to survive being the first African-American FLOTUS—and not only survive, but thrive. For eight years, we witnessed the adversity the first family had to face, and now we get to read what it was really like growing up in a working-class family on Chicago’s South Side and ending up at the world’s most famous address. As the author amply shows, her can-do attitude was daunted at times by racism, leaving her wondering if she was good enough. Nevertheless, she persisted, graduating from Chicago’s first magnet high school, Princeton, and Harvard Law School, and pursuing careers in law and the nonprofit world. With her characteristic candor and dry wit, she recounts the story of her fateful meeting with her future husband. Once they were officially a couple, her feelings for him turned into a “toppling blast of lust, gratitude, fulfillment, wonder.” But for someone with a “natural resistance to chaos,” being the wife of an ambitious politician was no small feat, and becoming a mother along the way added another layer of complexity. Throw a presidential campaign into the mix, and even the most assured woman could begin to crack under the pressure. Later, adjusting to life in the White House was a formidable challenge for the self-described “control freak”—not to mention the difficulty of sparing their daughters the ugly side of politics and preserving their privacy as much as possible. Through it all, Obama remained determined to serve with grace and help others through initiatives like the White House garden and her campaign to fight childhood obesity. And even though she deems herself “not a political person,” she shares frank thoughts about the 2016 election.

An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6313-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 30, 2018

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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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