A fascinating portrait, and a convincing analysis. (8 maps, chronology)

THE BALKANS

A SHORT HISTORY

A skillful navigation of the stormy seas of Balkan history.

In this brief but significant account, Mazower (Dark Continent, 1998) dispels a number of common misconceptions about one of the most misunderstood regions (and peoples) in the world. He maintains that violence is no more endemic to the Balkans than any other part of Europe, for example, and that for most of its history the area had “no ethnic conflict at all.” Of course, this begs the question: Why is it only in the last one or two centuries that the cocktail became politically volatile? The author begins with a discussion of the geography, noting that mountains “have made commerce within the region more expensive and complicated the process of political unification” and showing that even the rivers are not suitable for commerce or communication. He then begins his chronological narrative, arguing that the “basic ethnographic composition” of the Balkans dates to the seventh century a.d. While the major religions—Orthodoxy, Catholicism, and Islam—have always struggled for dominance in the region, they have also (in the remoter provinces, at least) tended to melt into one another, creating a hybrid system “densely populated by invisible spirits, both malicious and benign” (e.g., the vampires of Transylvania). During the 19th century, “nation building” was the prime concern; after WWI, however, regional rivalries were “sharpened and intensified by ideology.” Mazower adheres to the conventional belief that federalism “remained the communist strategy for handling [multiple] nationalities,” and that Tito’s death and the fall of communism caused the system to break down. He also maintains that the development of material prosperity is a prerequisite for the development of strong democratic traditions.

A fascinating portrait, and a convincing analysis. (8 maps, chronology)

Pub Date: Nov. 10, 2000

ISBN: 0-679-64087-8

Page Count: 144

Publisher: Modern Library

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2000

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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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