MY GERMAN QUESTION

GROWING UP IN NAZI BERLIN

A disappointingly lackluster memoir focusing on the six boyhood years (1933—39) Gay spent in Nazi Berlin. All the intellectual and stylistic dimensions that make master historian and biographer Gay (author of the five-volume The Bourgeois Experience, etc.) such a superb academic writer—a somewhat detached, reflective, intellectually thorough and elegant approach’serve him less well when writing autobiographically. For example, even when describing the November 1938 national pogrom known as Kristallnacht, he gives short shrift to his own observations and reactions. Rather, he spends some time commenting upon psychohistorian Peter Loewenberg’s view of the event as a Nazi-organized “degradation ritual” against the Jews. Perhaps because he was a sometimes doted-upon, only child in an upper-middle-class, highly assimilated Jewish family whose members were able to leave before the “Final Solution,— Gay was partly insulated from some of the worst anti-Semitic and other horrors of the Third Reich. But there are some passages when his writing does have a certain crisp immediacy, as when he describes a family friend whom Gay encountered a month after the friend was released from a concentration camp: “he had visibly aged, looked deathly pale, seemed disoriented, I thought almost senile.— He also has some fine mini-profiles of both individuals who betrayed his family and a few who, with considerable courage, assisted them. In general, his writing comes more alive when he describes his experiences as an adolescent refugee, first in Havana, then in Denver. In large part, however, while Gay repeatedly describes Nazism as a “poison” from which his psyche has not to this day fully detoxified, he doesn’t quite succeed in having the reader really understand what the noxious, totalitarian, and ultimately murderous ambience of the Third Reich felt like day-to-day. Perhaps this is because, as Gay states in his acknowledgments, setting down this account proved “the least exhilarating assignment I have ever given myself or received from others.” (50 b&w illustrations, not seen)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-300-07670-3

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1999

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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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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