This brilliant, necessary book will hopefully do for Syria what Herr’s Dispatches (1977) did for Vietnam.

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THE MORNING THEY CAME FOR US

DISPATCHES FROM SYRIA

Newsweek Middle East editor di Giovanni (Ghosts by Daylight: A Modern-Day War Correspondent's Memoir of Love, Loss, and Redemption, 2013) dives headfirst into the nightmarish shadow world of modern Syria.

At the beginning, the author relates how a diplomat friend told her “not to start working in Syria. He said it would engulf me as Bosnia had done, and he suggested gently that this was probably not a good thing emotionally. Even so, I went.” Throughout the story, di Giovanni’s quest seems almost suicidal, but the fruits of her labor are astonishing. She profiles ordinary Syrians struggling to survive while also chronicling her own death-defying journey. Locals guided her through ruined churches, bomb-addled tenements, and dubious border crossings. Even as Western readers have gradually begun to understand the complexities of the Syrian conflict, di Giovanni brings daily life into focus. “What does war sound like?” she asks. “The whistling sound of the bombs falling can only be heard seconds before impact—enough time to know that you are about to die, but not enough time to flee. What does the war in Aleppo smell of? It smells of carbine, of wood smoke, of unwashed bodies, or rubbish rotting, of the heady smell of fear.” In her gutsy and sensitive narrative, the author offers the surreal imagery of a place without reason. During her first drive to Damascus, she stopped at a roadside Dunkin’ Donuts serving only cheese sandwiches. Later, a physician took a break from his dying patients to play a lonely game of foosball on the hospital roof. Di Giovanni interweaves biblical references and anecdotes about her own motherhood into the story, which may strike some readers as forced or even melodramatic. But the author is a master of war reporting, especially its civilian side. Thanks to her bitter sacrifice, Western readers may begin to appreciate the chaos that Syrian refugees continue to flee.

This brilliant, necessary book will hopefully do for Syria what Herr’s Dispatches (1977) did for Vietnam.

Pub Date: May 3, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-87140-713-9

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Liveright/Norton

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2016

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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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Bibliophiles will love this fact-filled, bookish journey.

THE LIBRARY BOOK

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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