A powerful, often haunting narrative of love in the worst of circumstances, though told with more art than is necessary or,...

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THE OASIS

A MEMOIR OF LOVE AND SURVIVAL IN A CONCENTRATION CAMP

Scriptwriter and novelist Popescu (autobiography: The Return, 1997; Amazon Beaming, 1991) tells the romantic tale of his wife’s parents—a potent story, extracted from their taped testimonies, of devotion in an unlikely setting.

Blanka and Mirek were each transported by the Nazis from Auschwitz to work in Mühldorf, a satellite of Dachau, where they met and fell in love. In Mühldorf, there was a truth in the cynical slogan Arbeit Macht Frei—at least in the case of the young lovers. Mirek, a political prisoner, had been employed to clear the sewers of the destroyed Warsaw ghetto, turning over recovered valuables to his captors. Then he was used to defuse Allied bombs. A consummate networker, he was also an underground agent, operating as a camp electrician, and was able to guide and teach Blanka the skills necessary to survive. She sorted loot stolen from gassed and incinerated victims, ran the tea kitchen for the living workers, and eventually became housekeeper for the camp kommandant. The text, artfully constructed in the first person, is largely in her impassioned voice. There are vivid character sketches, flashbacks to Blanka’s shtetl home, and precise depictions of barracks life. There’s also jealousy and melodrama and sensuality. Blanka’s story is one of ardor and endurance, Mirek’s one of high adventure. Finally, of course, the lovers were reunited after the war and, like many survivors, married and started a family and life anew. And, like many Holocaust memoirs, this one is an engrossing tale. “One might envision” his book, says the author, “as Gone With the Wind in the forties in Europe.” That’s a diminishing mistake, and the novelistic approach, too professional in its effort to relive the survivors’ true histories, may strain a reader’s credulity.

A powerful, often haunting narrative of love in the worst of circumstances, though told with more art than is necessary or, perhaps, appropriate.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-312-27869-1

Page Count: 368

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2001

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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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Bibliophiles will love this fact-filled, bookish journey.

THE LIBRARY BOOK

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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