A recondite study, so subtly wrought as to be somewhat murky, traces the deeply divided allegiances and tortuous history of a once proud East Prussia.

A northern Baltic stronghold nestled presently between Gdansk, Poland, and Lithuania’s western border, East Prussia had been home to five centuries of highly evolved German civilization, from the crusading Teutonic Knights who wrested the land from the pagans, to the militarized aristocracy of Junkers from which the German army drew its officers. Bombed by the British in 1944 and overrun by the Red Army, its inhabitants fled westward, and the province was effectively depopulated of Germans and dismantled, becoming today’s haunted, uneasy blend of Russians, Poles and Lithuanians. Novelist and biographer Egremont (Siegfried Sassoon, 2005, etc.) tiptoes through this “whispering past” by seeking out some of the members of the old landowning families to get a sense of a previous vanished world: the Dönhoffs of Friedrichstein, the Lehndorffs of Steinort and the Dohnas of Schlobitten. For example, in 1992, the author interviewed politician and writer Marion Dönhoff, one of the founders of Die Zeit, whose memoirs serve as a key historical source. With a keen eye to uncovering history, Egremont studies a 1911 report made of the region by an English colonel, Alfred Knox, at the height of East Prussia’s efficient, militarized glory, when the port of Königsberg was thriving, the railroads criss-crossed the region and a sense of powerful new German nationalism prevailed, albeit tinged with an anxiousness about the threat of Russia. The German euphoria after the victory of Tannenberg in 1914 soon gave way to a shattering defeat and a collapse of many great houses. Treks by poet Agnes Miegel and novelist Thomas Mann also provided navigation through this place full of “old yearning.” The once stately Königsberg, home to Immanuel Kant, has become today’s scarred and “doomed” modern Russian metropolis of Kaliningrad, “a place of victims.” Ponderous, thickly detailed, somberly composed work joining travelogue and reflective history lesson.


Pub Date: Nov. 8, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-374-15808-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: July 26, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2011

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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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