DOING BATTLE

A MEMOIR

From literary historian Fussell (The Angi-Egotist, 1994; Wartime 1989; etc.), a lugubrious, frequently self-pitying account, relieved by flashes of wit, of how he evolved from a happy-go-lucky Southern California innocent into the vinegary cynic and intellectual snob he is now. Born in 1924, Fussell lived a privileged, even idyllic boyhood in Pasadena as the son of a distinguished local attorney. His principal interests were printing, photography, and magic. His innocence was unrelieved by his years at Pomona College, where he discovered literature, particularly the works of H.L. Mencken, whose acerbic and baroque contempt for America seems to have permanently marked Fussell's outlook. Neither Pomona nor Mencken was ideal preparation for his grueling WW II induction into the army and service in Company F of the 410th Infantry, 103rd Division. Combat was even more dehumanizing; here, as elsewhere, Fussell writes graphically and with simple eloquence of the disfiguring effects of combat on the body, mind, and soul of soldiers. On March 15, 1945, Fussell was severely wounded by shrapnel from a shell that killed the two men with him, and he spent considerable time experiencing the horrors of army hospital life. Annoyingly, Fussell can't help comparing all life experiences to a book he's read or a movie he's seen; he compares his field hospital to a scene in Gone With the Wind. Mustered out, he resolved to resist falsehood and cant, and after earning his Harvard doctorate, he bravely waged war on the sensibilities of the young "girl-children" of the Connecticut College for Women, whom he routinely reduced to "tears and tantrums." He moved on to despise the students at Rutgers University, whom he calls "moronic." Fussell treats the reader to a running commentary on his books and essays, venting iconoclastic views on war, culture, and other subjects along the way. Unpleasant in many ways, but valuable, as are other of Fussell's works, for a forthright portrayal of war's horrors and lasting ill effects.

Pub Date: Oct. 4, 1996

ISBN: 0-316-29717-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 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 wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor...

INTO THE WILD

The excruciating story of a young man on a quest for knowledge and experience, a search that eventually cooked his goose, told with the flair of a seasoned investigative reporter by Outside magazine contributing editor Krakauer (Eiger Dreams, 1990). 

Chris McCandless loved the road, the unadorned life, the Tolstoyan call to asceticism. After graduating college, he took off on another of his long destinationless journeys, this time cutting all contact with his family and changing his name to Alex Supertramp. He was a gent of strong opinions, and he shared them with those he met: "You must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life''; "be nomadic.'' Ultimately, in 1992, his terms got him into mortal trouble when he ran up against something—the Alaskan wild—that didn't give a hoot about Supertramp's worldview; his decomposed corpse was found 16 weeks after he entered the bush. Many people felt McCandless was just a hubris-laden jerk with a death wish (he had discarded his map before going into the wild and brought no food but a bag of rice). Krakauer thought not. Admitting an interest that bordered on obsession, he dug deep into McCandless's life. He found a willful, reckless, moody boyhood; an ugly little secret that sundered the relationship between father and son; a moral absolutism that agitated the young man's soul and drove him to extremes; but he was no more a nutcase than other pilgrims. Writing in supple, electric prose, Krakauer tries to make sense of McCandless (while scrupulously avoiding off-the-rack psychoanalysis): his risky behavior and the rites associated with it, his asceticism, his love of wide open spaces, the flights of his soul.

A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor will it to readers of Krakauer's narrative. (4 maps) (First printing of 35,000; author tour)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-42850-X

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Villard

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1995

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