Monstrously entertaining and tenderhearted view of “Chilango” history on the eve of the centennial of the Mexican Revolution.

EL MONSTRUO

DREAD AND REDEMPTION IN MEXICO CITY

Longtime Mexico City denizen, social activist and journalist Ross (Zapatistas! Making Another World Possible: Chronicles of Resistance 2000–2006, 2006, etc.) fashions a brave, stirring love letter, cautionary tale and travelogue of his beloved city.

Having personally witnessed a quarter-century of the ebb and flow of Mexican revolution, bloodshed and social cataclysm from his lair at the Hotel Isabel across from the National Library, the author possesses a vivid sense of the complexity of “El Monstruo.” Slaughter, invasion and enslavement have dominated Mexican history, as Ross traces in his vernacular, pithy journey from the establishment of the lake city of Tenochtitlán to the devastation by the Spaniards under Hernán Cortés, subsequent incursions by the French and Yanquis and waves of successive revolutionary violence and civil war. The Mexican capital has inordinate and some might say nefarious influence on the rest of the country. Ross characterizes the Mexican Revolution of 1910 (the “cannibal revolution”) as an age-old struggle on the part of the disgruntled peasantry to wrest power from the grasping oligarchs operating in the capital. The author is thorough and engagingly irreverent, and his focus is broad. He doesn’t skimp on any one period or personality, from the lively Anglo writers who flocked to the city after the revolution, such as Ambrose Bierce, to the drug-addled Beats; the reception of Leon Trotsky and his subsequent murder; Truman’s cynical wooing of Mexico as a “bulwark against the red menace” (he was the first U.S. president to actually visit Mexico City); to the rise of the left, drug wars, high-level corruption, NAFTA, Zapatista insurgency, burgeoning of crime and general misery of the masses. From his binational perch, Ross offers a singular, sympathetic take on Mexican history for American readers, especially regarding the mystifying political machinations since the 1968 Olympic Games.

Monstrously entertaining and tenderhearted view of “Chilango” history on the eve of the centennial of the Mexican Revolution.

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 2009

ISBN: 978-1-56858-424-9

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Nation Books

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2009

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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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A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

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WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

A neurosurgeon with a passion for literature tragically finds his perfect subject after his diagnosis of terminal lung cancer.

Writing isn’t brain surgery, but it’s rare when someone adept at the latter is also so accomplished at the former. Searching for meaning and purpose in his life, Kalanithi pursued a doctorate in literature and had felt certain that he wouldn’t enter the field of medicine, in which his father and other members of his family excelled. “But I couldn’t let go of the question,” he writes, after realizing that his goals “didn’t quite fit in an English department.” “Where did biology, morality, literature and philosophy intersect?” So he decided to set aside his doctoral dissertation and belatedly prepare for medical school, which “would allow me a chance to find answers that are not in books, to find a different sort of sublime, to forge relationships with the suffering, and to keep following the question of what makes human life meaningful, even in the face of death and decay.” The author’s empathy undoubtedly made him an exceptional doctor, and the precision of his prose—as well as the moral purpose underscoring it—suggests that he could have written a good book on any subject he chose. Part of what makes this book so essential is the fact that it was written under a death sentence following the diagnosis that upended his life, just as he was preparing to end his residency and attract offers at the top of his profession. Kalanithi learned he might have 10 years to live or perhaps five. Should he return to neurosurgery (he could and did), or should he write (he also did)? Should he and his wife have a baby? They did, eight months before he died, which was less than two years after the original diagnosis. “The fact of death is unsettling,” he understates. “Yet there is no other way to live.”

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular clarity.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8840-6

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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