A vitally important Holocaust story eruditely captured.

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THE TRUE ADVENTURES OF GIDON LEV

RASCAL. HOLOCAUST SURVIVOR. OPTIMIST.

In this elegantly conceived memoir, a Czechoslovakia-born Holocaust survivor works with an LA editor to write his life story, and a tender friendship ensues.

Gidon Lev was born in Karlsbad, Czechoslovakia, in 1935. When he was 6, he and his mother were ordered by the Nazis to board a train to Theresienstadt concentration camp, where he remained until the age of 10. Lev lost 26 members of his family in the Holocaust. In 1959, he immigrated to Israel and served in the Six-Day War. His marriage to his first wife “fell apart incrementally but dramatically”; Lev found a note on her door saying she had gone to America, taking their children with her. A two-time cancer survivor himself, he lost his second wife to lung cancer months before Gray moved to Israel in 2012. Lev sought out Gray as an editor, but while collaborating on his book project, they spent “almost every day together” and realized they made “great life partners.” The memoir later recalls their visit to the West Bank and Lev’s horror that the “fenced-in” Arab villages remind him of Theresienstadt. Gray’s narrative voice—which fills in historical detail and offers personal commentary on moments such as when she returned to Theresienstadt with Lev—is delicately balanced with transcriptions of interviews with Lev. Lev’s vivid recollections of the concentration camp are haunting: “We didn’t really know that there were gas chambers. But there were rumors of things like that.” Lev casually throws in tantalizing nuggets of information about his family history (“The truth is, my grandfather owned a Stradivarius viola”), and Gray’s descriptions augment scenes, like when she recalls entering a torture room at Theresienstadt: “Starlings were swooping in and out of nests….Diving up, under the eaves on the outside of the buildings, they pulled bits of string and straw in after them.” Some readers may question the juxtaposition of Gray’s and Lev’s very different voices, but they blend together well, informing each other, and Gray ensures that Lev remains the central focus. Illustrated with Lev’s family photographs, this is a remarkable tale of survival and unexpected kinship.

A vitally important Holocaust story eruditely captured.

Pub Date: June 30, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-73524-970-4

Page Count: 322

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: Sept. 5, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2020

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A rousing, suspenseful adventure tale.

MADHOUSE AT THE END OF THE EARTH

THE BELGICA'S JOURNEY INTO THE DARK ANTARCTIC NIGHT

A harrowing expedition to Antarctica, recounted by Departures senior features editor Sancton, who has reported from every continent on the planet.

On Aug. 16, 1897, the steam whaler Belgica set off from Belgium with young  Adrien de Gerlache as commandant. Thus begins Sancton’s riveting history of exploration, ingenuity, and survival. The commandant’s inexperienced, often unruly crew, half non-Belgian, included scientists, a rookie engineer, and first mate Roald Amundsen, who would later become a celebrated polar explorer. After loading a half ton of explosive tonite, the ship set sail with 23 crew members and two cats. In Rio de Janeiro, they were joined by Dr. Frederick Cook, a young, shameless huckster who had accompanied Robert Peary as a surgeon and ethnologist on an expedition to northern Greenland. In Punta Arenas, four seamen were removed for insubordination, and rats snuck onboard. In Tierra del Fuego, the ship ran aground for a while. Sancton evokes a calm anxiety as he chronicles the ship’s journey south. On Jan. 19, 1898, near the South Shetland Islands, the crew spotted the first icebergs. Rough waves swept someone overboard. Days later, they saw Antarctica in the distance. Glory was “finally within reach.” The author describes the discovery and naming of new lands and the work of the scientists gathering specimens. The ship continued through a perilous, ice-littered sea, as the commandant was anxious to reach a record-setting latitude. On March 6, the Belgica became icebound. The crew did everything they could to prepare for a dark, below-freezing winter, but they were wracked with despair, suffering headaches, insomnia, dizziness, and later, madness—all vividly capture by Sancton. The sun returned on July 22, and by March 1899, they were able to escape the ice. With a cast of intriguing characters and drama galore, this history reads like fiction and will thrill fans of Endurance and In the Kingdom of Ice.

A rousing, suspenseful adventure tale.

Pub Date: May 4, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-984824-33-2

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Jan. 30, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2021

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Unsentimental nature writing that sheds as much light on humans as on eels.

THE BOOK OF EELS

OUR ENDURING FASCINATION WITH THE MOST MYSTERIOUS CREATURE IN THE NATURAL WORLD

An account of the mysterious life of eels that also serves as a meditation on consciousness, faith, time, light and darkness, and life and death.

In addition to an intriguing natural history, Swedish journalist Svensson includes a highly personal account of his relationship with his father. The author alternates eel-focused chapters with those about his father, a man obsessed with fishing for this elusive creature. “I can’t recall us ever talking about anything other than eels and how to best catch them, down there by the stream,” he writes. “I can’t remember us speaking at all….Because we were in…a place whose nature was best enjoyed in silence.” Throughout, Svensson, whose beat is not biology but art and culture, fills his account with people: Aristotle, who thought eels emerged live from mud, “like a slithering, enigmatic miracle”; Freud, who as a teenage biologist spent months in Trieste, Italy, peering through a microscope searching vainly for eel testes; Johannes Schmidt, who for two decades tracked thousands of eels, looking for their breeding grounds. After recounting the details of the eel life cycle, the author turns to the eel in literature—e.g., in the Bible, Rachel Carson’s Under the Sea Wind, and Günter Grass’ The Tin Drum—and history. He notes that the Puritans would likely not have survived without eels, and he explores Sweden’s “eel coast” (what it once was and how it has changed), how eel fishing became embroiled in the Northern Irish conflict, and the importance of eel fishing to the Basque separatist movement. The apparent return to life of a dead eel leads Svensson to a consideration of faith and the inherent message of miracles. He warns that if we are to save this fascinating creature from extinction, we must continue to study it. His book is a highly readable place to begin learning.

Unsentimental nature writing that sheds as much light on humans as on eels.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-296881-4

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: March 1, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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