A very personal view of the past artfully brought to vivid life.

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IN THE SHADOW OF KING SAUL

ESSAYS ON SILENCE AND SONG

Now entering his ninth decade, a prolific adventurer in fiction and nonfiction offers an amalgam of some of his favorite topics in 10 lively essays dating from 1978 through 2005.

In an introductory essay, Charyn (Winter Warning: An Isaac Sidel Novel, 2017, etc.) confesses to a passion for words and a lust for books. That will be no surprise to his many devoted readers. During high school and college, he writes, “I was discovering a wonderland of books—it was like plunging deeper and deeper into a rabbit hole….I began to build my own castle of Modern Library classics, with one bookcase piled upon another.” In the other essays, the author pays particular attention to the land of his birth, the Bronx, and its attendant mobsters. He remembers his family—a beautiful, troubled mother, an inattentive, illiterate father, a good police detective brother—mostly with affection. In his biblical exegesis, Charyn considers the feckless and fearful King Saul. Regarding literary matters, he expounds on the work of Saul Bellow, Lionel Trilling, the neglected Anzia Yezierska, and, most significantly, Isaac Babel. Charyn’s world includes Josh Gibson, the gentle and disturbed hero of the Negro Baseball League, and Krazy Kat, the androgynous hero/heroine of the great eponymous comic strip. The author also explores the history of Ellis Island before it was cleaned up as well as the life of the natty gangster Arnold Rothstein. Charyn’s New York is not E.B. White’s. His collected ruminations, rendered in an idiosyncratic style that frequently combines street jargon with Talmudic intricacies, speak of greenhorns and gangsters, of alrightniks and no-goodniks, bosses, “mooks” and “geeps.” His musings are populated by Babel’s Benya Krik and Bellow’s Augie March, and the leitmotif is the individual isolated in the world.

A very personal view of the past artfully brought to vivid life.

Pub Date: Aug. 28, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-942658-42-9

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Bellevue Literary Press

Review Posted Online: May 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 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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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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