Deftly mingling subjective and objective material, Demetz shines a bright literary light on an important piece of political...




An all-encompassing, if sometimes daunting account of life in Prague during the six-year Nazi occupation.

In his follow-up to Prague in Black and Gold: Scenes from the Life of a European City (1997), Prague-born historian Demetz (The Air Show at Brescia, 1909, 2002, etc.) covers a vast amount of political and cultural material, veering between scholarly and autobiographical approaches. The academic analysis is at times intimidatingly dense, but readers who persevere will be rewarded with rich, balanced profiles of significant figures ranging from Konstantin von Neurath, the Nazi-installed leader of Bohemia and Moravia, to Franz Kafka’s beloved Milena Jesenská, an essayist who was active in the resistance movement. The half-Jewish Demetz, who lost several family members in concentration camps, also includes detailed descriptions of the impact on Jews’ daily lives of Nazi racial policies, which could be as petty as bans on the purchase of fruit and coffee. On the cultural front, Czech films, literature and music are viewed mainly through the prism of the era’s political climate; Demetz discusses at length, for example, the role jazz played in inspiring members of the resistance. These meaty scholarly sections would have been more effective if they had been tightened. The book really shines, however, in the haunting accounts of the author’s childhood and youth, including a 1944 stint in Prague’s Pankrác prison: “In the morning, when the guards banged on our door, the oldest of us had to shout ‘Alles gesund” [All are healthy],’ but that did not stop the guards from rushing in to dunk our heads in the toilet bowls or taking us out to the corridor to do special gymnastics.”

Deftly mingling subjective and objective material, Demetz shines a bright literary light on an important piece of political and cultural history.

Pub Date: April 22, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-374-28126-7

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2008

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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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