In her latest collection of her ``Letters from Europe'' for the New Yorker, Kramer (Whose Art Is It?, 1994, etc.) ponders the fate of post-Wall Germany. In six long essays from November 1988 to August 1995, Kramer offers snapshots of a nation struggling through a difficult transition, evolving from the divided Germany of the Cold War to the uneasily reunified Germany of today. The Germans, she writes in her introduction, ``discovered that it was hard to be ordinary folks . . . when you had a Holocaust in your history.'' But the presence of the Holocaust is only implied in all but the last two pieces, one on skinhead violence in the city of Ludwigshafen and the other on Berlin's debate over how to memorialize the six million Jews murdered by the Nazis. In the first four essays, the dilemma hangs like an unidentified cloud over Germans who strive to be ``ordinary.'' However, the most visible presence in all six pieces is the Wall and its ghosts. In her November 1991 piece ``Berlin,'' Kramer treats the German capital as a city in which East and West are still clearly demarcated. In ``Peter Schmidt'' and ``Stasi'' she reveals the problems that the former East Germans have brought to the unification party, particularly an odd, troubling passivity. Kramer is not a scintillating prose stylist, but she is an excellent reporter. Equally important, she has a sure grasp of the architecture of the long feature piece; the six essays in this volume are superbly structured. It would have been nice, however, to know what happened to the principal players here in the years since the articles were written. Thoughtful, insightful writing, a convincing portrait of contemporary Germany, and a forceful cautionary tale: After all, every time the Germans have had a ``German problem,'' it has become as a problem for everyone else, too.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-44872-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1996

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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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Bibliophiles will love this fact-filled, bookish journey.


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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