A controversial, insightful work from Poland’s 2013 journalist of the year.

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MOSTLY TRUE STORIES FROM HALF OF CZECHOSLOVAKIA

Impassioned, insightful snapshots of life in pre–Velvet Revolution Czechoslovakia.

Winner of the 2009 European Book Prize, acclaimed Polish journalist Szczygiel’s well-researched, unsunny volume of “mostly true stories” forms an indelible impression of the Czech population. His glimpses encapsulate the struggles of these hardscrabble citizens prior to the nation’s liberation in 1993, with strength and resilience as the operative themes threaded throughout. The sweeping opening biography focuses on the rise of innovative Czech entrepreneur Tomas Bata, who revolutionized the shoe manufacturing business using the Henry Ford assembly-line production model. The author also profiles the tangled life of actress Lida Baarova, who, for two years during her early 20s, became the mistress of Joseph Goebbels, the “Minister of Propaganda” for Hitler's National Socialist government. Also of note are creatively drawn portrayals of struggling pop singer Marta Kubisova, whose songs were censored and removed from public consumption, and a poignant report on the life of teenage Prague student Zdenek Adamec, who became increasingly appalled by the conditions in the Czech Republic and committed public suicide by self-immolation. Szczygiel explores the communist takeover of Czechoslovakia in searing pieces revealing the true extent of the mass liquidation of “anything that brings simple pleasure” to the public. The author also offers an inventive take on the metamorphosis of the “Cubist personality” of provocative writer Eduard Kirchberger into pseudonym “Karel Fabian.” All of these congruous pieces create a patchwork tapestry of Central European history. Whether chronicling the sculpting of Prague’s monument to Joseph Stalin or the dubious allegiances of writer Jan Prochazka, the atmosphere Szczygiel evokes is glumly foreboding yet intensely interesting.

A controversial, insightful work from Poland’s 2013 journalist of the year.

Pub Date: May 27, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-61219-313-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Melville House

Review Posted Online: May 7, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2014

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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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