Poignant and prescient. (35 b&w photos)

WHAT I SAW

REPORTS FROM BERLIN, 1920-1933

Evocative pieces about life in interbellum Berlin by a Jewish journalist and fiction writer (The Collected Stories of Joseph Roth, 2002, etc.).

Roth (1894–1939) wrote in lyrical prose, genially leftist but pointed and candid as well. This is the first collection of his journalism in English, a beautiful translation from the German, and after finishing these 34 pieces, readers will yearn for more. Roth’s bright eye roams across Berlin, settling on both the obscure and the patent. He excels at the former, noting “It’s only the minutiae of life that are important.” He wanders the streets where impoverished refugees live. He haunts the “dives” and nightclubs, mingles with those society has forgotten. “All state officials,” he declares, “should be required to spend a month serving in a homeless shelter to learn love.” He ponders the effects of mass transportation, expatiates on the wonders of department stores, marvels at Berlin’s first skyscraper. “Strong and safe in its assembly,” he says of this towering building, “it matches a natural mountain for strength.” He is puzzled by the German fascination for wax museums, comments wryly that participants in the six-day bike races don’t really ever get anywhere, and in perhaps the wriest piece he writes about a cinema as if it were a church. At times his sentences are perfect, near poetry in syntax and diction: of a card game, he remarks, “On the table the grimy bits of cardboard make a noise like muffled slaps.” He has no respect for politicians and wishes that they were as impressive as the buildings they worked in. The only piece that deals directly with fascism is the final one. In slashing prose he writes of the Nazis’ “crazy assaults on the intellect” and condemns Europe for its sloth, weakness, apathy, and ready capitulation to cruelty.

Poignant and prescient. (35 b&w photos)

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 2002

ISBN: 0-393-05167-6

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2002

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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 PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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