Not for the faint of heart, the faint of stomach or those put off by relentless descriptions of battle scenes.

DEATH IN THE SAHARA

THE LORDS OF THE DESERT AND THE TIMBUKTU RAILWAY EXPEDITION MASSACRE

French colonialism goes awry in a saga of hope, betrayal, slaughter and cannibalism in 19th-century North Africa.

British desert explorer and Morocco resident Asher (Khartoum: The Ultimate Imperial Adventure, 2008, etc.) tracks the French government’s ambitious plan to build a railroad from Algiers to Timbuctoo (as it was spelled in those days). The Trans-Saharan Railway was intended not so much to carry human passengers as to convey French commercial goods into the vast markets of African nations and return with exotic natural resources to be shipped to Paris. Not so incidentally, the railroad’s planners expected that it would speed the spread of French morality among the Sahara Desert’s tribes, whom they viewed as benighted heathens. In 1880, Paul Flatters led a mission into the populated portion of Algeria and from there into the desert to map the proposed railway route. A veteran of the French Army of Africa, Flatters craved renown and saw this as his chance: “The man who led the Trans-Saharan survey mission would go down in history as the last of the great Saharan explorers.” Flatters felt certain he could negotiate with nomadic tribes that controlled the desert, even though the Tuareg in particular were known for their hostility to interlopers on their land. His naiveté cost him and dozens in his party their lives; on February 16, 1881, more than 300 Tuareg warriors attacked the expedition. Asher builds the tension slowly but inexorably toward this climactic battle, during which Flatters was murdered. It occurs slightly before the book’s midpoint; after that, the narrative devolves into a gruesome account of the survivors’ struggles against thirst and starvation as well as lethal tribesmen. The agony was relentless as they dragged themselves toward safety, their camels stolen or dead. The survivors’ desperate resort to cannibalism will horrify, but not surprise, readers.

Not for the faint of heart, the faint of stomach or those put off by relentless descriptions of battle scenes.

Pub Date: May 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-1-60239-630-2

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Skyhorse Publishing

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2008

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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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Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

TOMBSTONE

THE EARP BROTHERS, DOC HOLLIDAY, AND THE VENDETTA RIDE FROM HELL

Rootin’-tootin’ history of the dry-gulchers, horn-swogglers, and outright killers who populated the Wild West’s wildest city in the late 19th century.

The stories of Wyatt Earp and company, the shootout at the O.K. Corral, and Geronimo and the Apache Wars are all well known. Clavin, who has written books on Dodge City and Wild Bill Hickok, delivers a solid narrative that usefully links significant events—making allies of white enemies, for instance, in facing down the Apache threat, rustling from Mexico, and other ethnically charged circumstances. The author is a touch revisionist, in the modern fashion, in noting that the Earps and Clantons weren’t as bloodthirsty as popular culture has made them out to be. For example, Wyatt and Bat Masterson “took the ‘peace’ in peace officer literally and knew that the way to tame the notorious town was not to outkill the bad guys but to intimidate them, sometimes with the help of a gun barrel to the skull.” Indeed, while some of the Clantons and some of the Earps died violently, most—Wyatt, Bat, Doc Holliday—died of cancer and other ailments, if only a few of old age. Clavin complicates the story by reminding readers that the Earps weren’t really the law in Tombstone and sometimes fell on the other side of the line and that the ordinary citizens of Tombstone and other famed Western venues valued order and peace and weren’t particularly keen on gunfighters and their mischief. Still, updating the old notion that the Earp myth is the American Iliad, the author is at his best when he delineates those fraught spasms of violence. “It is never a good sign for law-abiding citizens,” he writes at one high point, “to see Johnny Ringo rush into town, both him and his horse all in a lather.” Indeed not, even if Ringo wound up killing himself and law-abiding Tombstone faded into obscurity when the silver played out.

Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-21458-4

Page Count: 400

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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