A SEVERED WASP

A NOVEL

Bother in the Cathedral—enervating bother—as veteran juvenile author L'Engle frogmarches her 70-ish protagonist through a talkathon of troubles and a marathon of acquaintanceships with bishops, deans, nuns, and others at an Episcopal church in upper Manhattan. Katherine Vigneras, retired from a stellar concert-pianist career to what she expects to be townhouse solitude in lower Manhattan, is contacted by an old, transformed acquaintance: the once-dissolute young man who married (and divorced) Katherine's first love-rival is now . . . elderly Bishop Felix Bodeway. So, gradually, Katherine slips into the Church society: the companionable and talented family of Dean Davidson, including budding musical genius Emily (who lost her leg in what might not have been an accident); brilliant organist Llew Owen, grieving over his wife's childbirth-death; Bishop Allie Undercroft, who reminds Katherine so much of the German WW II commandant in her past; Allie's wife Yolande, former pop-star from a seedy Colombian background; Sister Isobel, once married to Allie; Yolande's sinister housekeeper, Mrs. Gomez; and Sister Catherine, a nun of extraordinary spiritual strengths. Plus, at home, there are Katherine's two tenants: orthopedic surgeon Dr. Mimi Oppenheimer, who proffers comforts and says "Oy veh"; and pregnant Dorcas, separated from a hateful husband who cheated on her with a man. And furthermore, while all of these folks pour out confidences and confessions, Katherine's own tangled past slowly bubbles forth: pianist/composer husband Justin, you see, had his hands broken and was castrated in Auschwitz; yet he urged Katherine to go forth and multiply; so children Julie and Michou (killed tragically at seven) were conceived with help from a Cardinal, a Norwegian conductor, and that Nazi commandant. The action, then, is minimal—as Katherine moves from Cathedral practice for a benefit concert to lessons-for-Emily to social gatherings, ever shuttling between the Village and St. John's. But eventually, after listening and giving advice ad infinitum, Katherine does solve the matters of Emily's secret terrer and seine obscene phone calls. With bland characters, all speaking in the same liturgical-paced cadences: an immense but serenely soaring mess—no livelier or crisper than L'Engle's last foray into adult fiction, The Other Side of the Sun.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1982

ISBN: 0374517835

Page Count: 412

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Oct. 17, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1982

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The value of this book is the context it provides, in a style aimed at a concerned citizenry rather than fellow academics,...

HOW DEMOCRACIES DIE

A provocative analysis of the parallels between Donald Trump’s ascent and the fall of other democracies.

Following the last presidential election, Levitsky (Transforming Labor-Based Parties in Latin America, 2003, etc.) and Ziblatt (Conservative Parties and the Birth of Democracy, 2017, etc.), both professors of government at Harvard, wrote an op-ed column titled, “Is Donald Trump a Threat to Democracy?” The answer here is a resounding yes, though, as in that column, the authors underscore their belief that the crisis extends well beyond the power won by an outsider whom they consider a demagogue and a liar. “Donald Trump may have accelerated the process, but he didn’t cause it,” they write of the politics-as-warfare mentality. “The weakening of our democratic norms is rooted in extreme partisan polarization—one that extends beyond policy differences into an existential conflict over race and culture.” The authors fault the Republican establishment for failing to stand up to Trump, even if that meant electing his opponent, and they seem almost wistfully nostalgic for the days when power brokers in smoke-filled rooms kept candidacies restricted to a club whose members knew how to play by the rules. Those supporting the candidacy of Bernie Sanders might take as much issue with their prescriptions as Trump followers will. However, the comparisons they draw to how democratic populism paved the way toward tyranny in Peru, Venezuela, Chile, and elsewhere are chilling. Among the warning signs they highlight are the Republican Senate’s refusal to consider Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee as well as Trump’s demonization of political opponents, minorities, and the media. As disturbing as they find the dismantling of Democratic safeguards, Levitsky and Ziblatt suggest that “a broad opposition coalition would have important benefits,” though such a coalition would strike some as a move to the center, a return to politics as usual, and even a pragmatic betrayal of principles.

The value of this book is the context it provides, in a style aimed at a concerned citizenry rather than fellow academics, rather than in the consensus it is not likely to build.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6293-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 13, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2017

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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

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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