Paradoxes aplenty within this serene, astute book, which will invite much discussion.




Three well-hewn essays by longtime Asia observer Smith (Japan: A Reinterpretation, 1997, etc.) explore the West’s heavy shadow over Japan, China and India, and new attempts to shake it off.

The author has trekked through these countries asking questions about what is “real” in their cultures and histories and what has been assumed from the West—or, what is often manifested as nostalgia for the old ways, and what emerges as ressentiment (“submerged sensation of impotence”) toward the forcibly new and modern. Since the 19th century, when modernization was introduced in these countries, the Asian self has divided, or “doubled,” into the modern self, which assimilated Western habits and notions of time, and the traditional, which treasured the indigenous and authentic. In “Calligraphy and Clocks,” Smith looks at the blatant effects of Westernization in places such as the village of Kitakyushu, Japan, transformed into a steel town by the postwar “Japanese miracle”; Guangzhou, China, the meeting between China’s past and future, where Deng Xiaoping is quoted as saying, “To get rich is glorious”; and Sandur, India (“the saddest village I have ever seen, though not the poorest by a long way”), where the textile manufacturing so valued by Gandhi has been superseded by mining. The Chinese elemental notions of li (the law of things) and qi (physical matter) have morphed into today’s driving concepts of ti (essence) and yong (function)—a transformation, writes Smith, that provides a key to understanding the Asian mindset. In “The Buddhas at Qixia,” the author examines each country’s manipulation of its past, including Japan’s alienation from nature and China’s amnesia of the Cultural Revolution. Finally, in “The Skyward Garden,” Smith challenges the Western obsession with a nation’s having a purpose, incompatible with Eastern ideals, and suggests rather that each country “will have to imagine itself anew.”

Paradoxes aplenty within this serene, astute book, which will invite much discussion.

Pub Date: Aug. 31, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-375-42550-9

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: June 3, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2010

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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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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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