The author never delivers the promised entertainment wallop.

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THE STRANGE CASE OF HELLISH NELL

THE TRUE STORY OF HELEN DUNCAN AND THE WITCH TRIAL OF WORLD WAR II

A Scottish psychic is charged under Britain’s Witchcraft Act of 1735 as the Allies prepare to launch the D-day invasion.

Psychologist and family therapist Shandler (Ophelia’s Mom, not reviewed) recounts this unlikeliest of tales in brittle, colorless prose that diffuses much of its drama. Nell Duncan, an overweight mother of six whose two sons were off fighting Hitler while she was on trial, never really comes into focus as anything more than a pathetic oddity. Nor is the book’s readability helped by the author’s habit of skipping abruptly back and forth from Duncan’s days as a young tomboy romping through Edinburgh to her adult years as a controversial medium continually hounded by skeptical psychiatrists and authorities. Duncan’s psychic powers surfaced early but didn’t provide escape from a generally sad life. She was thrown out by her mother after bearing a child out of wedlock and lost an infant daughter. Saddled with a feckless husband and growing family, she resorted to performing in public. Séances and spiritualism were wildly popular in war-torn Britain as grieving relatives tried to contact the soldiers dying daily on the battlefield. Duncan had a history of revealing secret ship movements while in a trance, so when she began giving séances in the harbor town of Portsmouth on Jan. 14, 1944, local authorities feared she would divulge the pending D-day invasion, slated to be launched from a nearby port. Much of the story revolves around her nine-day trial. Duncan’s attorney called no fewer than 39 defense witnesses, each of whom testified that she produced the talking ghosts of their departed loved ones through a spirit guide named Albert. Shandler never addresses the credibility of these accounts (didn’t anyone ever think to bring a camera?), and we can’t help but feel that the whole truth eludes us.

The author never delivers the promised entertainment wallop.

Pub Date: Oct. 30, 2006

ISBN: 0-306-81438-2

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Da Capo

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 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...

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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