A work of significant moral clarity and elegant precision.

SURVIVING KATYŃ

STALIN'S POLISH MASSACRE AND THE SEARCH FOR TRUTH

The Katyń Massacre was the opening salvo to a war defined by unimaginable horrors. Here, its story is told clearly and passionately with allegiance only to the truth.

In the study of history, one of the hallmarks of the “great powers” is that the rules do not apply to them. Powerful empires—Roman, Ottoman, Soviet, etc.—create their own realities that may or may not coincide with one’s lived experience. After Hitler’s 1939 invasion of Poland, the Soviets decided it was in their best interest to annex a piece of the eastern half of that country. Consequently, it created a reality in which the extant Polish government was dissolved. According to their Orwellian logic, if there was no legitimate government to reckon with, they had free reign. Among their first acts was the capture of more than 22,000 Poles. These men would later be described as the elite of Polish society, including military officers but also aristocrats, artists, and indeed a “complete cross section” of Polish life. Elite or no, the prisoners were bombarded with torrents of authoritarian disinformation and propaganda. During April and May 1940, they were executed. When the Nazis discovered the bodies of those who had been trucked away and “liquidated,” they saw it as a propaganda coup. Lavrentiy Beria, Stalin’s secret police chief, offhandedly called the massacre a “mistake” and tried to pin the blame on the Germans. In a riveting narrative, Rogoyska brings the victims out of the shadows, telling their stories as well as those of the people desperately searching for them. Throughout, the author’s humanity is on full display. These are not just statistics or another item in the ledger of World War II atrocities, but flesh-and-blood individuals who were cut down for no reason and whose memory was lost in the fog of military, great-power history. Rogoyska is to be commended for resurrecting this heartbreaking tale.

A work of significant moral clarity and elegant precision.

Pub Date: June 8, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-78607-892-6

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Oneworld Publications

Review Posted Online: March 26, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2021

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A rousing, suspenseful adventure tale.

MADHOUSE AT THE END OF THE EARTH

THE BELGICA'S JOURNEY INTO THE DARK ANTARCTIC NIGHT

A harrowing expedition to Antarctica, recounted by Departures senior features editor Sancton, who has reported from every continent on the planet.

On Aug. 16, 1897, the steam whaler Belgica set off from Belgium with young  Adrien de Gerlache as commandant. Thus begins Sancton’s riveting history of exploration, ingenuity, and survival. The commandant’s inexperienced, often unruly crew, half non-Belgian, included scientists, a rookie engineer, and first mate Roald Amundsen, who would later become a celebrated polar explorer. After loading a half ton of explosive tonite, the ship set sail with 23 crew members and two cats. In Rio de Janeiro, they were joined by Dr. Frederick Cook, a young, shameless huckster who had accompanied Robert Peary as a surgeon and ethnologist on an expedition to northern Greenland. In Punta Arenas, four seamen were removed for insubordination, and rats snuck onboard. In Tierra del Fuego, the ship ran aground for a while. Sancton evokes a calm anxiety as he chronicles the ship’s journey south. On Jan. 19, 1898, near the South Shetland Islands, the crew spotted the first icebergs. Rough waves swept someone overboard. Days later, they saw Antarctica in the distance. Glory was “finally within reach.” The author describes the discovery and naming of new lands and the work of the scientists gathering specimens. The ship continued through a perilous, ice-littered sea, as the commandant was anxious to reach a record-setting latitude. On March 6, the Belgica became icebound. The crew did everything they could to prepare for a dark, below-freezing winter, but they were wracked with despair, suffering headaches, insomnia, dizziness, and later, madness—all vividly capture by Sancton. The sun returned on July 22, and by March 1899, they were able to escape the ice. With a cast of intriguing characters and drama galore, this history reads like fiction and will thrill fans of Endurance and In the Kingdom of Ice.

A rousing, suspenseful adventure tale.

Pub Date: May 4, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-984824-33-2

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Jan. 30, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2021

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A valuable contribution to our understanding of one of history’s most vital figures.

THE PRISON LETTERS OF NELSON MANDELA

An epistolary memoir of Nelson Mandela’s prison years.

From August 1962 to February 1990, Mandela (1918-2013) was imprisoned by the apartheid state of South Africa. During his more than 27 years in prison, the bulk of which he served on the notorious Robben Island prison off the shores of Cape Town, he wrote thousands of letters to family and friends, lawyers and fellow African National Congress members, prison officials, and members of the government. Heavily censored for both content and length, letters from Robben Island and South Africa’s other political prisons did not always reach their intended targets; when they did, the censorship could make them virtually unintelligible. To assemble this vitally important collection, Venter (A Free Mind: Ahmed Kathrada's Notebook from Robben Island, 2006, etc.), a longtime Johannesburg-based editor and journalist, pored through these letters in various public and private archives across South Africa and beyond as well as Mandela’s own notebooks, in which he transcribed versions of these letters. The result is a necessary, intimate portrait of the great leader. The man who emerges is warm and intelligent and a savvy, persuasive, and strategic thinker. During his life, Mandela was a loving husband and father, a devotee of the ANC’s struggle, and capable of interacting with prominent statesmen and the ANC’s rank and file. He was not above flattery or hard-nosed steeliness toward his captors as suited his needs, and he was always yearning for freedom, not only—or even primarily—for himself, but rather for his people, a goal that is the constant theme of this collection and was the consuming vision of his entire time as a prisoner. Venter adds tremendous value with his annotations and introductions to the work as a whole and to the book’s various sections.

A valuable contribution to our understanding of one of history’s most vital figures.

Pub Date: July 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-63149-117-7

Page Count: 640

Publisher: Liveright/Norton

Review Posted Online: April 4, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2018

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