This frank and revelatory memoir portrays in rich detail Russia’s recent past and illuminates the consequences of its...

WORD FOR WORD

A MEMOIR

Memories of life behind the Iron Curtain.

In 1997, Lungina (1920-1998), a literary translator, spent a week with director Oleg Dorman, recounting her life for a 15-part documentary. Aired in Russia in 2009, the series was hugely popular, and the script, transcribed, translated and augmented with some additional material, has resulted in this disarmingly candid memoir. Born in Russia to Jewish parents, Lungina spent her childhood in Germany and France, returning to Moscow in 1934. The city in those days, she recalled, “was very poetic,” with milkmaids delivering milk and sledges carrying Muscovites through icy streets. Soon, though, she became aware of endemic political oppression: Friends’ fathers were arrested, some friends were expelled from her school, and when she protested the stupidity of that policy, she was expelled, too. “I think this was the definitive moment in my disenchantment with the system, and my final rejection of it,” she said. Yet despite waging a reign of terror, Stalin was revered. Lungina explains her contemporaries’ psychology as “a kind of religious psychosis” caused partly by the strength of Stalin’s personality and partly by Russia’s cultural isolation. Art and literature needed to conform to socialist realism. After World War II, Lungina imagined that Russians who fought throughout Europe would return with a new desire for freedom, but Stalin quashed that desire. Calling people “cogs in a machine,” he enacted a stringent policy of surveillance and incited betrayal, denouncement and virulent anti-Semitism. Much of Lungina’s memoir focuses on the plight of the intelligentsia, which included herself (she translated, among many other writers, Astrid Lindgren, Heinrich Boll and August Strindberg); her husband, a playwright and director; and their friends, who included poet Joseph Brodsky and novelists Boris Pasternak and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. “Life taught me,” she said, “that intellectual courage is much harder to muster than physical courage.”

This frank and revelatory memoir portrays in rich detail Russia’s recent past and illuminates the consequences of its history for the turbulent present.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2014

ISBN: 978-1468307320

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Overlook

Review Posted Online: Sept. 28, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2014

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 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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