Diligent but tedious.

Ill-focused look at the Belle Époque in France.

Cambor chooses three “gilded youth” to carry her story—Léon Daudet, son of Provençal novelist Alphonse Daudet; Jean-Baptiste Charcot, son of neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot; and Jeanne Hugo, granddaughter of legendary novelist Victor Hugo. The author quickly loses the thread of Jeanne, who didn’t accomplish much more in her life than marry and divorce the previous two men, while Jean-Baptiste, after practicing medicine like his father, departs the narrative to pursue his real love—high-seas exploration. In contrast to their three wise, positivist forebears, who had championed “a hard-won faith in the human capacity for progress,” the youth came of age in an unsettling time, as France faced the fallout from the Franco-Prussian War, foreign elements came under increasing suspicion and the Dreyfus Affair opened a suppurating vein of anti-Semitism. With the deaths of the aged parents in the late 1880s and ’90s, the idols had fallen and darker days were rolling in. Léon, divorced from spoiled socialite Jeanne, took up with unsavory friends such as anti-Republic royalist Charles Maurras and Édouard Drumont, founder of the Antisemitic League of France. He became a bombastic polemicist and reactionary for the conservative publication Action Française, rallying public outrage against Marie Curie’s election to the Academy of Sciences. Cambor’s dense prose obscures much of the dynamism of this “age of extremes,” and the lack of excerpts from these great authors’ works seems like a missed opportunity for important contextual development.

Diligent but tedious.

Pub Date: Aug. 4, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-374-16230-6

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2009


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


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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