Lucid, thorough and essential to understanding Stalinist society.

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THE WHISPERERS

PRIVATE LIFE IN STALIN’S RUSSIA

The people whisper while denunciations are shouted all around: an exemplary study in mentalités, asking how the norms of old were so thoroughly remade in the years of Soviet terror.

Eminent Russologist/Sovietologist Figes (History/Cambridge Univ.; Natasha’s Dance, 2002, etc.) observes that Russian society is closely organized around the family, and thus it was that “the family was the first arena in which the Bolsheviks engaged the struggle.” The early Soviets took it as a matter of doctrine that the bourgeois family was the primary source of socially harmful, conservative mores and other manifestations of reaction, but that, the dialectic being what it is, the bourgeois family would eventually disappear once socialism was on a sure footing and the state assumed cradle-to-grave responsibilities for feeding, housing and carrying for the denizens of the worker’s paradise. They tried to hurry matters along in the first years of the New Economic Policy by forcing the formerly rich to share their houses and apartments with the poor, thinking that the people would become “communistic in their basic thinking and behavior” as notions of personal property and privacy faded away. The Bolsheviks also liquidated and deported a few million irredeemably bourgeois types. The so-called new society that resulted was notable for the lack of affection parents showed children—which, as Figes notes, was the habit of the old aristocracy, now spread into the larger citizenry. Children repaid the favor by informing on their elders. By the 1930s, the vydvizhentsy, these unloved “sons (and very rarely, the daughters) of the peasantry and the proletariat,” most educated for only seven years, would take the place of the Old Bolsheviks and become the conformist, unflinching functionaries of the Stalinist regime, the ones who obediently policed, deported and executed their fellow citizens. Figes’s sociological approach explains much about these evils and how Russia fell under a complicit, fearful silence.

Lucid, thorough and essential to understanding Stalinist society.

Pub Date: Oct. 2, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-8050-7461-1

Page Count: 576

Publisher: Metropolitan/Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2007

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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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Bibliophiles will love this fact-filled, bookish journey.

THE LIBRARY BOOK

An engaging, casual history of librarians and libraries and a famous one that burned down.

In her latest, New Yorker staff writer Orlean (Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend, 2011, etc.) seeks to “tell about a place I love that doesn’t belong to me but feels like it is mine.” It’s the story of the Los Angeles Public Library, poet Charles Bukowski’s “wondrous place,” and what happened to it on April 29, 1986: It burned down. The fire raged “for more than seven hours and reached temperatures of 2000 degrees…more than one million books were burned or damaged.” Though nobody was killed, 22 people were injured, and it took more than 3 million gallons of water to put it out. One of the firefighters on the scene said, “We thought we were looking at the bowels of hell….It was surreal.” Besides telling the story of the historic library and its destruction, the author recounts the intense arson investigation and provides an in-depth biography of the troubled young man who was arrested for starting it, actor Harry Peak. Orlean reminds us that library fires have been around since the Library of Alexandria; during World War II, “the Nazis alone destroyed an estimated hundred million books.” She continues, “destroying a culture’s books is sentencing it to something worse than death: It is sentencing it to seem as if it never happened.” The author also examines the library’s important role in the city since 1872 and the construction of the historic Goodhue Building in 1926. Orlean visited the current library and talked to many of the librarians, learning about their jobs and responsibilities, how libraries were a “solace in the Depression,” and the ongoing problems librarians face dealing with the homeless. The author speculates about Peak’s guilt but remains “confounded.” Maybe it was just an accident after all.

Bibliophiles will love this fact-filled, bookish journey.

Pub Date: Oct. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4018-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: July 2, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2018

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