MEMOIRS

An almost unprecedented event: the autobiography of a general secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, which is not only filled with information and assessments unobtainable elsewhere, but is also candid, wry, ready to admit mistakes, and unusually revealing about the nature of power at the top of the Soviet Union. One of the surprises may be that after a life at the center of a cold and selfish bureaucracy, there is still a human being with a profound sense of justice at the center of this narrative. This is particularly evident in Gorbachev's account of his early years. Both of his grandfathers were sent to labor camps during the purges, and one of his wife's grandfathers was executed. Even in his early years he notes, ``I wondered about a system . . . so unresponsive to renewal and innovation.'' But he is frank to say that he hid his feelings, a requirement in a party whose leaders did not even exchange personal visits because this might suggest they were plotting. He is not quite as frank about his period in power, although he freely confesses the timidity and piecemeal strategy of many of his early moves. While highly critical of the privileged group that held power, he believes that at the top level of the party there was a group ``convinced of the vital need for reform and . . . ready to accept enormous risks.'' There is almost an elegiac quality in his account of the slow dissolution of the state. He seems increasingly to have sought in foreign policy the approbation he was no longer receiving at home. And his final chapter gives a sense of someone who no longer understands his irrelevance, larded with comments like ``I expressed my readiness to be a mediator'' or ``I offered a package of proposals.'' There is a richness in this autobiography to which no review can do justice. It leaves a deep impression of a remarkable and decent human being trying to improve a system that wasn't. (16 pages b&w photos, not seen)

Pub Date: Oct. 10, 1996

ISBN: 0-385-48019-9

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1996

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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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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

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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