With a highly sensitive but unsparing eye, these essays argue that new moral and linguistic categories are required in order to respond properly and honestly to the reality of the Holocaust. Langer (English/Simmons College), who won a National Book Critics Circle award for Holocaust Testimonies ( 1991), asserts that ``language preserves a semblance of order that disintegrates'' in the reality of the mass slaughter of Jews. Analyzing the ways in which people have tried to understand or represent the Holocaust, he looks at oral testimony, diaries, memoirs, and fiction, including works by writers like William Styron and Bernard Malamud for whom the Holocaust is an important but not necessarily central theme. Langer also examines some portrayals of the Holocaust on American TV, stage, and screen, eloquently resisting attempts to sentimentalize Holocaust victims, resisters, or survivors. Above all, he insists that the Holocaust represents a ``rupture'' in the images and values of modern Western culture, several times approvingly quoting Jean AmÇry's observation that ``no bridge led from death in Auschwitz to Death in Venice.'' Langer's only questionable contention is that ``Auschwitz introduced the realm of the unthinkable into the human drama.'' What, one wonders, of the mass deaths of millions during WW I's trench warfare or Stalin's murder of as many as 30 million in the USSR during the purges? Generally, however, Langer writes superbly. He has a gift for simple yet resonant phrasing: Of fictional survivors such as Aharon Appelfeld's Great Barfuss and Cynthia Ozick's Rosa, he writes that they are emotionally and spiritually ``dead while alive'' and thus ``amputated from time.'' Langer applies his insightful, razor-sharp pen to others' works about an event that, he convincingly maintains, carries neither lesson nor moral but instead overpowers memory, mocks the pretensions of civilization, and leaves an absurd, irredeemable legacy.

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 1994

ISBN: 0-19-509357-7

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1994

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?


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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet