RETREAT FROM THE FINLAND STATION

MORAL ODYSSEYS IN THE BREAKDOWN OF COMMUNISM

Murphy (AndrÇ Malraux, 1991) delivers a stimulating study of the rise and fall of the Communist dream, as seen through 11 representative European figures. Like the classic work whose title it echoes, Edmund Wilson's To the Finland Station (1940), Murphy's account uses biographical portraits to trace an ideology and its consequences. Murphy, however, picks up where Wilson left off—at the initial euphoria of the 1917 Bolshevik revolution—and follows the subsequent ``disintegration of the socialist idea'' as the notion of a benevolent leviathan that would eliminate class injustices was soon transformed into a totalitarian state. Although some Communists shed their misconceptions more readily than others, self-delusion was the common experience of the two sets of heretics examined here: writer/intellectuals (Silone, Mayakovsky, Koestler, Silone, Gide, and the young and fervent Solzhenitsyn) and revolutionary/politicians (Bukharin, Khrushchev, Yugoslavia's Djilas, Hungary's Nagy, Czechoslovakia's Dubek, and Gorbachev). Only Solzhenitsyn, imprisoned in the gulag while still a young soldier, saw through Communism's contradictions early, and he is the figure treated most sympathetically by Murphy. But for all his shrewd character analysis (e.g., Gorbachev's climb up the greasy pole as Yuri Andropov's protÇgÇ), the author fails to notice his subjects' attitudes toward the Soviet-Nazi nonaggression pact of 1939, surely a seminal event in anti-Communism, and he overly credits ``utopian schemes'' as a root cause of the rise of Soviet totalitarianism, without remarking on Russia's long history of authoritarian Czarist rule. Still, an ironic, well-written post-mortem of a political system of staggering inefficiency, brutality, and self-delusion.

Pub Date: July 6, 1992

ISBN: 0-02-922315-6

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Free Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 1992

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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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Bibliophiles will love this fact-filled, bookish journey.

THE LIBRARY BOOK

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

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