Disparate musings cohere into a lyrical meditation on violence, disaster, and humanity’s yearning for solace.


In 1815, a volcanic eruption caused a year of devastation. Here is a vivid, disquieting collage of prose pieces that swirl around that one cataclysmic event.

In this slim book, poet, essayist, and children’s book author Lebowitz (Cottonopolis, 2013, etc.) draws on fairy tales and parables; excerpts from memoirs, poetry, and the King James Bible; Norse and Greek myths; and assorted historical and archaeological sources. On April 10, 1815, in Indonesia, Mount Tambora spewed lava and ash into the atmosphere, instantly killing nearly 12,000 people and countless animals. Cows and horses were swept into the sky; pumice lay a foot thick; birds fell dead; and there was darkness for days. Throughout the world, what should have been summer never arrived. In July, rivers were iced over; rain fell unabated; harvests failed. In the months that followed, 90,000 Indonesians starved. Crops were covered in frost, and fungi poisoned wheat. The next year, 1817, was “The Year of the Beggar.” Not surprisingly, some saw the eruption as God’s punishment: “when the weather turned or disaster struck,” Lebowitz observes, “there were always voices explaining why this was so, why the rain was falling now, why the snow was brown, whose side God was on.” Some prayed, and others atoned, but still summer never came. Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, Percy Shelley, Lord Byron, and their children were in Switzerland during the wettest summer on record. Lake Geneva flooded and inundated the town of Vevey, where Shelley created her tale of a monster who runs from his creator into an icy realm. Lebowitz juxtaposes the volcanic eruption with another violent event that occurred a century later: World War I, “the turning-point in the history of the earth,” according to British writer Wyndham Lewis, in which men and horses drowned in mud, just as they had in the post-volcanic year.

Disparate musings cohere into a lyrical meditation on violence, disaster, and humanity’s yearning for solace.

Pub Date: April 3, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-77196-219-3

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Biblioasis

Review Posted Online: Dec. 19, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2018

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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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