Anyone who has read accounts of Nazi Germany or Stalin's Russia or junta-ruled Argentina (Uruguay, Chile, Bolivia) will recognize the "mechanisms of terror" Didion and her husband John Gregory Dunne found on a two-week visit to El Salvador in June 1982. One doesn't have to visit a body dump or the San Salvador morgue to know about the daily killings. One needn't even have lunch with US ambassador Deane Hinton—crystal glasses, profiteroles—to realize that we've been fooling ourselves, with their complicity: "trying to get the Salvadoran government to 'appear' to do what the American government wanted done in order to make it 'appear' that the American aid was justified." And that, for the Salvadoran part, "'anti-communism' was seen, correctly, as the bait the United States would always take." In the light of the last half-century, it can't be argued that attention-getting Americans like Didion shouldn't add their denunciations to what human rights organizations (Amnesty International, the American Watch Committee) have documented and the press has reported. Press attention, in particular, constantly shifts—bringing a much-remarked end, Didion notes, to the Hotel Camino Real's breakfast buffet. Such precise observations are rare, however (though not entirely absent—re Ambassador Hinton: "Someone who is about to marry a third time, who thinks of himself as the father of ten, and who has spent much of his career in chancy posts . . . is apt to be someone who believes in the possible"). Much that is said about El Salvador—from the "elusive shadows" to the ersatz ethnic dances—could equally be said about other such situations. And Didion's dry runs, her admission of how hard it is to find out anything—combined with her professed intent to learn "la verdad," as if the truth were ascertainable (even with more time and broader contacts)—make this a document of passing interest, better suited to its original publication in the New York Review.

Pub Date: March 28, 1983

ISBN: 0679751831

Page Count: 93

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Oct. 10, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1983

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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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A Churchill-ian view of native history—Ward, that is, not Winston—its facts filtered through a dense screen of ideology.


Custer died for your sins. And so, this book would seem to suggest, did every other native victim of colonialism.

Inducing guilt in non-native readers would seem to be the guiding idea behind Dunbar-Ortiz’s (Emerita, Ethnic Studies/California State Univ., Hayward; Blood on the Border: A Memoir of the Contra War, 2005, etc.) survey, which is hardly a new strategy. Indeed, the author says little that hasn’t been said before, but she packs a trove of ideological assumptions into nearly every page. For one thing, while “Indian” isn’t bad, since “[i]ndigenous individuals and peoples in North America on the whole do not consider ‘Indian’ a slur,” “American” is due to the fact that it’s “blatantly imperialistic.” Just so, indigenous peoples were overwhelmed by a “colonialist settler-state” (the very language broadly applied to Israelis vis-à-vis the Palestinians today) and then “displaced to fragmented reservations and economically decimated”—after, that is, having been forced to live in “concentration camps.” Were he around today, Vine Deloria Jr., the always-indignant champion of bias-puncturing in defense of native history, would disavow such tidily packaged, ready-made, reflexive language. As it is, the readers who are likely to come to this book—undergraduates, mostly, in survey courses—probably won’t question Dunbar-Ortiz’s inaccurate assertion that the military phrase “in country” derives from the military phrase “Indian country” or her insistence that all Spanish people in the New World were “gold-obsessed.” Furthermore, most readers won’t likely know that some Ancestral Pueblo (for whom Dunbar-Ortiz uses the long-abandoned term “Anasazi”) sites show evidence of cannibalism and torture, which in turn points to the inconvenient fact that North America wasn’t entirely an Eden before the arrival of Europe.

A Churchill-ian view of native history—Ward, that is, not Winston—its facts filtered through a dense screen of ideology.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-8070-0040-3

Page Count: 296

Publisher: Beacon Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2014

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