Almost by itself, this thin historical record makes the case for Baartman’s wholesale exploitation, and Holmes would have...

AFRICAN QUEEN

THE REAL LIFE OF THE HOTTENTOT VENUS

The story of Saartjie Baartman, a kidnapped South African who briefly created a sensation in Europe.

In 1809, British officer and surgeon Alexander Dunlop and his manservant Hendrik Cesars illegally transported the orphaned 21-year-old Baartman from Cape Town to London, planning to exhibit her for money. Billed as the Hottentot Venus, she appeared onstage in a flesh-toned body stocking, designed to highlight her protruding buttocks, with an embroidered pubic apron, thought to conceal the legendary extended labia of women of her tribe. An assortment of beads, shells and feathers completed the costume and, set against a backdrop of painted “African” scenery, Baartman sang, danced, played instruments and smoked a pipe. She was an immediate hit. Following a high-profile court case to determine whether her exhibition was voluntary or compelled, she toured the provinces for three years, triumphed in Paris and died in 1815. Her corpse was spirited to the Museum of Natural History for analysis, dissection and preservation of her skeleton, brain and genitals. In 2002, these remains were returned to South Africa, where at a state funeral she was proclaimed “the nation’s grandmother.” Holmes is especially adept at explaining the period’s fascination with the Hottentot Venus, how a combination of curiosity—some of it genuinely scientific—myth, legend and lust transfixed audiences. She does less well examining the story from Baartman’s perspective. Was the drummer boy who fathered her child back in South Africa black or white? How did that child die? Was Baartman pimped out by her keepers shortly before her own death, the cause of which remains unknown? Indeed, the sheer number of plausible explanations for Baartman’s abrupt demise—flu, bronchitis, alcoholism, overwork, depression—illustrates the evidentiary void plaguing the author.

Almost by itself, this thin historical record makes the case for Baartman’s wholesale exploitation, and Holmes would have done better to let that silence speak rather than freight the final chapters with a hopelessly muddled “significance” the story will not bear out.

Pub Date: Jan. 9, 2007

ISBN: 1-4000-6136-9

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2006

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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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