A haunting yet wry tale of young people at war, cursed by political forces beyond their control, that can stand alongside...

PUMPKINFLOWERS

A SOLDIER'S STORY

Powerful account of youthful Israelis maturing, fighting, and dying at a forgotten Lebanon outpost.

In this limber, deceptively sparse take on the Middle East’s tightening spiral of violence, Friedman (The Aleppo Codex: A True Story of Obsession, Faith, and the Pursuit of an Ancient Bible, 2012) combines military history and personal experience on and off the line in deft, observant prose. The narrative is reminiscent of novels by Denis Johnson and Robert Stone, linking combat’s violent absurdity to the traumatized perspectives of individual participants. Friedman covers the period from about 1994 to 2000, and most of the action takes place at a fortified border emplacement, nicknamed the Pumpkin, meant to prevent guerrilla incursions from southern Lebanon. The author notes that he and his predecessors found themselves “in a forgotten little corner of a forgotten little war, but one that has nonetheless reverberated with quiet force in our lives….Anyone looking for the origins of the Middle East of today would do well to look closely at these events.” In the first section, Friedman dramatizes the experiences of an early unit serving there, focusing on Avi, a soldier who fulfills the infantry archetype of the rebellious miscreant who was changed by vicious combat, here against an increasingly professionalized Hezbollah. Avi’s death in a helicopter accident fueled the civilian peace movement, represented by the anguish of the mothers of such casualties. Yet, as Friedman discovered during his own tour of the Pumpkin, the enemy they faced was quietly mutating: “Israel found itself facing an enemy other than the one it thought it was fighting.” Throughout, the author grapples with questions regarding both Israeli aggression and the nature of the state’s survival. In a chilling final section, he chronicles his travels as a Canadian tourist to his former combat zone in Lebanon, encountering friendly residents in thrall to Hezbollah and seething with anti-Semitism.

A haunting yet wry tale of young people at war, cursed by political forces beyond their control, that can stand alongside the best narrative nonfiction coming out of Afghanistan and Iraq.

Pub Date: May 3, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-61620-458-7

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: March 1, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2016

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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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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