PREEMPTING THE HOLOCAUST

Langer, one of our most eloquent Holocaust scholars (Admitting the Holocaust, 1994, etc.), offers 11 essays that look mainly at the inadequacies of art in addressing this cataclysm. The lectures and occasional pieces collected in this new volume, written in the last three years, deal predominantly with cultural issues, ranging from the paintings of Samuel Bak (a survivor of the Vilna ghetto) to the Yiddish-Polish film Undzere Kinder (Our Children), from the moral question posed by Simon Wiesenthal’s The Sunflower to the problem of teaching the Holocaust. Langer, like Bak, “insists on a tension between . . . two narratives [of Jewish history]: a positive chronicle moving from Creation to Exodus . . . and a negative one, beginning with round-ups and finishing with train voyages to a perplexing abandonment and final doom.” In his previous work, Langer has offered a convincing analysis of the events of the Holocaust as being beyond our previous categories of moral behavior and of the recollections of the survivors as existing in their own doubled narrative, “chronological” and “durational” time, as he puts it. The new book restates and refines the ideas of its predecessors, most notably Holocaust Testimonies (which won a National Book Critics Circle award), applying that work’s insights to specific texts with incisiveness and intelligence. At a time when the daily newspapers are filled with renewed versions of genocide and atrocity, but also a time in which the last of the perpetrators of the Holocaust and their victims are dying of old age, this volume is a useful corrective to the foolish sentimentalizing of these events or their application as a hideously inappropriate lesson on the “triumph of the human spirit.” As Langer himself points out dryly, “the Holocaust is a narrative without closure and with few cheerful endings.” An essential work on one of the central historical moments of this century. (First serial to Atlantic Monthly)

Pub Date: Nov. 23, 1998

ISBN: 0-300-07357-7

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1998

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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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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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