Yourcenar's re-creation of her ancestors' lives in 19th- and 20th-century Belgium, published in France in 1974, is unlikely to appeal to many American readers as it fails to relate directly to the experience of the late French Academy member (1903-87), author of Two Lives and a Dream, 1987; Mishima, 1986, etc. Opening with the Zen koan ``What did your face look like before your father and mother met?,'' the 70-year-old Yourcenar attempts to unearth the seeds of her being in the lives of her parents and ancestors, most of whom she never knew. The only child of an upper-class Belgian woman who died shortly after giving birth, and the second child of a French landowner with a strong peripatetic bent, Yourcenar grew up largely ignorant of the passions and tragedies that had set the growth of the family tree before her. Here, she unearths tales of Great-uncle Octave, a florid poet on her mother's side who spent his adult life mourning the suicide of his passionately political brother, Remo; of Aunt Jeanne, her mother's handicapped and unmarried sister who lived out a cold, aristocratic life with her German maid in a town house in Brussels; of Yourcenar's mother, Fernande, groomed for marriage yet unloved until her 31st year; and of a long line of upper-class Belgians who feared and scorned the neighboring French Revolution, negotiated shrewdly with tenant farmers, and wandered restlessly across the Continent while the beauty and security of their moneyed existence faded in the face of treeless landscapes and divided estates. Yourcenar intertwines these intricately imagined lives with issues in European thought and politics that will strike many as arcane—making this one of her less interesting works, though two follow-up volumes have yet to be published here. (Photographs—not seen.)

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 1991

ISBN: 0-374-13554-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1991

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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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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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