A fantastic, timely story, beautifully told, of a civilization’s refusal to die.

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SYRIA'S SECRET LIBRARY

READING AND REDEMPTION IN A TOWN UNDER SIEGE

A BBC reporter’s portrait of Darayya library in Syria, “a secret library filled with thousands of books rescued from the rubble of war.”

Telling an extraordinary story with consummate narrative skill, putting readers directly in the thick of the action, Thomson grabs our attention from the beginning and doesn’t let go. The author relied on Skype and WhatsApp for much of his reporting. Though the internet was often down, people recorded answers to his questions on their mobiles, ready to send when the connection was restored. Surrounded in 2012 by government forces, Darayya was subjected to bombing, chemical attacks, and siege for four long years, which makes the survival of a secret library even more remarkable. In 2013, amid the devastation of bombed-out buildings, a devoted group salvaged books from private libraries, council offices, and ruined buildings, at great personal risk. The new library’s overseer was Abdul Basit, followed closely by 14-year-old Amjad, the “self-declared Chief Librarian.” Other caretakers included students of civil engineering and chemistry and a rebel fighter. The revolution ended all university work, but the library found textbooks to help students continue. Their site was top secret, a basement in a side street with destroyed upper floors and no sign. Word of mouth was the only way to find it. When they did discover it, their joy reflected the deep need for normality in a war zone. The appearance of the “Syrian Banksy,” with his inspiring graffiti, produced hope for the present, and the library gave people hope for the future. Throughout the book, readers will be impressed and inspired by the resilience of these people. When the siege ended, the citizens of Darayya were evacuated, mostly to Idlib, another revolutionary center near the Turkish border, and allowed only a suitcase or two—no books. Thomson’s reporting is unquestionably thorough and compassionate.

A fantastic, timely story, beautifully told, of a civilization’s refusal to die.

Pub Date: Aug. 20, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5417-6762-1

Page Count: 336

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: June 17, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2019

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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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Not an easy read but an essential one.

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HOW TO BE AN ANTIRACIST

Title notwithstanding, this latest from the National Book Award–winning author is no guidebook to getting woke.

In fact, the word “woke” appears nowhere within its pages. Rather, it is a combination memoir and extension of Atlantic columnist Kendi’s towering Stamped From the Beginning (2016) that leads readers through a taxonomy of racist thought to anti-racist action. Never wavering from the thesis introduced in his previous book, that “racism is a powerful collection of racist policies that lead to racial inequity and are substantiated by racist ideas,” the author posits a seemingly simple binary: “Antiracism is a powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to racial equity and are substantiated by antiracist ideas.” The author, founding director of American University’s Antiracist Research and Policy Center, chronicles how he grew from a childhood steeped in black liberation Christianity to his doctoral studies, identifying and dispelling the layers of racist thought under which he had operated. “Internalized racism,” he writes, “is the real Black on Black Crime.” Kendi methodically examines racism through numerous lenses: power, biology, ethnicity, body, culture, and so forth, all the way to the intersectional constructs of gender racism and queer racism (the only section of the book that feels rushed). Each chapter examines one facet of racism, the authorial camera alternately zooming in on an episode from Kendi’s life that exemplifies it—e.g., as a teen, he wore light-colored contact lenses, wanting “to be Black but…not…to look Black”—and then panning to the history that informs it (the antebellum hierarchy that valued light skin over dark). The author then reframes those received ideas with inexorable logic: “Either racist policy or Black inferiority explains why White people are wealthier, healthier, and more powerful than Black people today.” If Kendi is justifiably hard on America, he’s just as hard on himself. When he began college, “anti-Black racist ideas covered my freshman eyes like my orange contacts.” This unsparing honesty helps readers, both white and people of color, navigate this difficult intellectual territory.

Not an easy read but an essential one.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-50928-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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