But despite his unsuccessful hunt for bigger game, Hemphill provides some marvelous character sketches of Southern poverty...




A glimpse inside a Southern pocket of rural America that time seems to have passed by.

While the rest of the country was consumed three years ago by accounts of the trial of the individuals responsible for the Oklahoma City bombing that killed 168 people, author Hemphill (Leaving Birmingham, 1993) began an investigation of what he himself acknowledges may come to be nothing more than a footnote in American history: the burning of a black church in the small Alabama town of Little River by five white youths. At the time, a number of black churches in the South were mysteriously being torched and it is possible that Hemphill may have had his sights set on a much larger story involving the Ku Klux Klan or a broad study of racial tensions in the South in the post–Civil Rights Act era when he first got started. But neither outline can be discerned in this tale. For one thing, relations between blacks and whites in Little River, far from being hostile, are politely cordial if not openly friendly. For another, the convicted youngsters who set the church ablaze were hardly evil but were apparently so stoned on beer and pot that they seem not to have realized that the makeshift structure they were torching was a place of worship. Even the Klansmen, as boorish and malign as they are, have no provable connection to the crime. Hemphill even attempts to rope Harper Lee's Pulitzer Prize–winning novel To Kill a Mockingbird (set in a town not far from Little River) into the case. But that proves too much of a stretch by far. Whatever went down in Little River has the markings of an anomaly rather than an abomination.

But despite his unsuccessful hunt for bigger game, Hemphill provides some marvelous character sketches of Southern poverty and culture blended neatly together in black and white.

Pub Date: May 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-684-85682-4

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Free Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2000

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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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Bibliophiles will love this fact-filled, bookish journey.


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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