Heartwarming, yet sober and unsentimental.




New York Times “Online Shopper” Slatalla (Speeding the Net, 1998, etc.) interweaves her family’s biography with the story of a town and a way of life that are disappearing.

The author’s mother grew up in tiny, economically strapped Martin, Kentucky. The town’s great distinction was its penchant for flooding every year, like clockwork. Local buildings were permanently waterlogged, and Martin never shed the smell of dried mud: “It smells like ruin, like poverty, like defeat.” After decades of floods, the federal government stepped in, razing the town in 2004 and relocating its citizens to a planned community on nearby, higher ground. Slatalla, determined to preserve its history, has created a luminous ode to the quaint sign that proclaimed “MARTIN POP. 860,” the C&O Café, the local ghosts. Her examination of Martin’s participation in WWII provides an especially insightful look at rural America in the mid-20th century. Residents didn’t pay much attention to events in Europe. The local paper reported not on the Nazi invasion of Denmark, but on the Easter egg hunt to raise funds for Mrs. Greer’s third-grade class. But if American mobilization for war caught Martin unaware, families served with distinction: Young men signed up to fight, and those left at home aided the war effort by stepping up agricultural production. Slatalla also tells her ancestors’ stories: Great-grandmother Hesta was fierce and loving, great-grandfather Fred hardworking and careful. The central family drama revolves around grandmother Mary’s ill-conceived marriage to, divorce from and eventual remarriage to no-good Elmer, who is the most complex character here. Charming and flashy, he drank too much and chased skirts, but also showered his wife with heart-wrenching love letters. The anticlimactic epilogue, with its self-conscious echoes of the graveyard scene from Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, is the only disappointing chapter.

Heartwarming, yet sober and unsentimental.

Pub Date: Aug. 8, 2006

ISBN: 0-375-50905-4

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2006

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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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