A clear and troubling picture of a country forced to embrace madness.




Two Swedish artists (one visual, the other musical) record their impressions of a one-week sojourn in North Korea in 2008.

Originally published in Sweden in 2011, this text has a busy agenda. Not only do the authors tell about their sightseeing (limited as it was), but they also interweave the story of the 1978 kidnappings of popular South Korean actress and filmmaker Choi Eun-hee and her ex-husband, filmmaker Shin Sang-ok, whom Kim Jong-il, then the head of the Propaganda and Agitation Department, brought to the North, where he gave them substantial financial support for their filmmaking. (For more detailed information about this remarkable story, see Paul Fischer’s A Kim Jong-il Production, 2015). Other subjects the authors deal with: the monster-film genre in the region (especially in Japan), the history of the North-South split, impressions of other writers about North Korea, and the mythmaking that political strongmen find essential. During their visit to the North, the authors—and the others with their group—were fiercely restricted: no photographs without prior approval from government officials and no wandering off. The authors speculate that much of what they saw was stage-managed (are those commuters or actors?), and they were deeply skeptical about what they were told—numerous shrines, they believe, are bogus. Near the end, they begin to wonder what the North Korean people really think about their lives. There is, the authors realize, no way to know. The prose is clear, even graceful at times, and the style is seamless. The authors were able to score a long interview with Madame Choi, and from her, they elicit some ambivalence about her tenure in the country. She and her ex appreciated, for example, the substantial state support for their art.

A clear and troubling picture of a country forced to embrace madness.

Pub Date: Jan. 12, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-77089-880-6

Page Count: 288

Publisher: House of Anansi Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 26, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2015

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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

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Bibliophiles will love this fact-filled, bookish journey.


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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