A rich trove of letters tells the moving story of two young physics students in Stalin’s Russia whose love was severely tested while separated by exile in Siberia.

In this first publication of “the largest cache of Gulag letters ever found,” Figes (History/Birkbeck College, Univ. of London; The Crimean War, 2011, etc.) has sifted through more than 1,500 missives to uncover a story of two people who found a way to endure over eight years of the harshest isolation and repression. After meeting at Moscow University in 1935, Lev and Svetlana, or Sveta as she is called in the letters, became kindred spirits over their shared passion for poetry and learning. With the invasion of Russia by the Nazis in 1941, Lev was mobilized to the front; he was soon captured and spent the war as a POW. However, because he spoke German, he was enlisted as a translator. With the liberation by the Americans, Lev was urged to take a job as a physicist in the United States, but he refused, returning to Moscow to find Sveta. Upon arrival, he was accused of spying for the Germans and was sentenced to 10 years in the Arctic Gulag. News of Lev’s whereabouts finally reached Sveta and her family, and in an extraordinary letter dated Jul. 12, 1946, Sveta wrote to Lev for the first time at the labor camp: “How many times have I wanted to nestle in your arms but could only turn to the empty wall in front of me? I felt I couldn’t breathe. Yet time would pass, and I would pull myself together. We will get through this, Lev.” They managed to express a cautiously optimistic tone through the grim, lonely stretch of Lev’s incarceration, and were even able to meet secretly a few times. Their devotion to each other allowed them each to survive. A heart-rending record of extraordinary human endurance.


Pub Date: May 8, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-8050-9522-7

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Metropolitan/Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: March 5, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2012

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.


The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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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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