Gripping, disturbing stories of life under an oppressive yet wildly popular autocrat.

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BETWEEN TWO FIRES

TRUTH, AMBITION, AND COMPROMISE IN PUTIN'S RUSSIA

Memorable portraits of Russians living under Vladimir Putin.

In his first book, New Yorker Moscow correspondent Yaffa begins with Yuri Levada, a pioneering sociologist whose massive survey during the collapse of communism showed plummeting enthusiasm for a strong leader, desire for an honest appraisal of their nation’s history, and more personal responsibility. He concluded that the passive if wily “Soviet Man” was disappearing in favor of a self-reliant individual yearning for freedom. In 2000, Levada reversed himself. Following the disastrous 1990s, Russians welcomed Putin, and they continue to give him approval ratings of over 80%. This is in “no small measure a product of the state’s monopolistic control over television, the media with the widest reach, and its squelching of those who would represent an alternative.” After this introduction, Yaffa delivers eight long, engrossing New Yorker–style profiles. One of the most significant of these figures is Konstantin Ernst, head of Channel One, Russia’s largest TV network. “Even as Channel One faithfully transmits the Kremlin’s line,” writes the author, “it does so with a measure of professionalism and restraint” and demonstrates genuine creativity in apolitical areas such as culture and history. Among Yaffa’s other powerful portraits are those of a saintly doctor who became a national hero caring for children during the gruesome Russian-Ukraine insurgency but found herself roped into endorsing the Russian side in a war she hated; a patriotic Russian entrepreneur in Crimea who despised living under the inefficient, corrupt Ukrainian government—while he rejoiced at Putin’s takeover, he discovered that life was harder under a more efficiently corrupt Russia; and a human rights crusader who, frustrated at her impotence, took a job in the government human rights office, a largely ceremonial position that now and then allows her to do a good deed.

Gripping, disturbing stories of life under an oppressive yet wildly popular autocrat.

Pub Date: Jan. 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-52-476059-5

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Tim Duggan Books/Crown

Review Posted Online: Oct. 14, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2019

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Not an easy read but an essential one.

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HOW TO BE AN ANTIRACIST

Title notwithstanding, this latest from the National Book Award–winning author is no guidebook to getting woke.

In fact, the word “woke” appears nowhere within its pages. Rather, it is a combination memoir and extension of Atlantic columnist Kendi’s towering Stamped From the Beginning (2016) that leads readers through a taxonomy of racist thought to anti-racist action. Never wavering from the thesis introduced in his previous book, that “racism is a powerful collection of racist policies that lead to racial inequity and are substantiated by racist ideas,” the author posits a seemingly simple binary: “Antiracism is a powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to racial equity and are substantiated by antiracist ideas.” The author, founding director of American University’s Antiracist Research and Policy Center, chronicles how he grew from a childhood steeped in black liberation Christianity to his doctoral studies, identifying and dispelling the layers of racist thought under which he had operated. “Internalized racism,” he writes, “is the real Black on Black Crime.” Kendi methodically examines racism through numerous lenses: power, biology, ethnicity, body, culture, and so forth, all the way to the intersectional constructs of gender racism and queer racism (the only section of the book that feels rushed). Each chapter examines one facet of racism, the authorial camera alternately zooming in on an episode from Kendi’s life that exemplifies it—e.g., as a teen, he wore light-colored contact lenses, wanting “to be Black but…not…to look Black”—and then panning to the history that informs it (the antebellum hierarchy that valued light skin over dark). The author then reframes those received ideas with inexorable logic: “Either racist policy or Black inferiority explains why White people are wealthier, healthier, and more powerful than Black people today.” If Kendi is justifiably hard on America, he’s just as hard on himself. When he began college, “anti-Black racist ideas covered my freshman eyes like my orange contacts.” This unsparing honesty helps readers, both white and people of color, navigate this difficult intellectual territory.

Not an easy read but an essential one.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-50928-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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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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