Mendes’s heroism is certainly worth rediscovering, but this is more eulogy than biography.




A French journalist narrates the little-known story of a Portuguese consul in France who, in 1940, gave visas to more than 10,000 Jews and Gentiles fleeing the Nazi invasion.

Aristide de Sousa Mendes could stand as proof of the cynical truism that no good deed goes unpunished. A career diplomat, Mendes served as Portuguese consul in Bordeaux during WWII. Although historians have routinely praised the Portuguese government’s humane actions during the course of the war (assuming that the flood of refugees admitted into Portugal after the French defeat reflected official policy), the fact was that Antonio Salazar, Portugal’s dictator, did not disapprove of Hitler and didn’t want the refugees. In 1939 he instructed Portuguese diplomats to grant visas only to select individuals approved by him. All obeyed except Mendes, who had 25 years of diplomatic service, 14 children, large debts, and no personal objections to the Salazar regime. When, in May 1940, the trickle of refugees became a flood, he kept his consulate open day and night, recruiting reluctant associates to help write the visas. His infuriated superiors repeatedly complained and ordered him to stop, but he continued. At the end of June, they stripped Mendes of authority and ordered him home. Dismissed from the service, he spent the remaining decade of his life in increasing poverty, pleading in vain for reinstatement. The author does not hide his admiration for Mendes and works hard to document the consul’s heroic deeds and the Portuguese government’s contemptible indifference—but, although he offers some speculation on Mendes’s motives, he never really attempts to explain why the consul felt driven to act as he did. The account takes on a somewhat two-dimensional aspect as a result.

Mendes’s heroism is certainly worth rediscovering, but this is more eulogy than biography.

Pub Date: April 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-7867-0848-4

Page Count: 192

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2001

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Bibliophiles will love this fact-filled, bookish journey.


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

Did you like this book?