Rigorous, tenacious research uncovers a grim story of human suffering.



Veteran magazine editor Tayman debuts with a cold-eyed account of the Hawaiian government’s century-long forced quarantine and effective imprisonment of lepers.

Leprosy, called by the Hawaiian people “the sickness that is a crime” because it leads to gross disfigurement, probably arrived with the whaling ships to the islands by the early 1800s. It was believed to be incurable and wildly infectious; in fact, it is caused by a bacteria and communicable only to persons with a genetic susceptibility. After the islands’ decimation by a smallpox epidemic in 1853, King Kamehameha V pledged to preserve the health of his subjects, and the Board of Health, prodded by the alarms sounded by Dr. William Hillebrand, moved to criminalize those showing symptoms of leprosy. Beginning in 1866,victims were arrested, isolated and exiled to the rocky, barren island of Molokai. The first dozen were deposited in a deserted village with no medical facilities and inadequate food; as incurables, they were expected to die. Many did indeed perish as the population swelled: Patients split into factions, fought for food and rebelled against the beleaguered superintendent. During the colony’s most populous era, in the late 1880s, Molokai was home to 1,144 inmates and had 432 buildings; it became habitable, even comfortable, according to Robert Louis Stevenson and other famous observers. Tayman offers numerous fascinating personal stories of people arrested and exiled to Molokai, sometimes with mistaken leprosy diagnoses. He profiles the tireless Flemish priest Father Damien, who caught the disease himself and died in 1889, and gives chilling details about medical experiments performed to isolate the leprosy bacilli. The author does not neglect the political ramifications of a leper colony growing in size at a time when America had its eye on annexing Hawaii and turning it into a vacation paradise. He hauntingly depicts the devastation of an ill-understood disease and helps demystify its victims, too often viewed as “sinful, shameful, and unclean.”

Rigorous, tenacious research uncovers a grim story of human suffering.

Pub Date: Jan. 3, 2006

ISBN: 0-7432-3300-X

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2005

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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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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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