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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Bernstein and Woodward, the two Washington Post journalists who broke the Big Story, tell how they did it by old fashioned seat-of-the-pants reporting — in other words, lots of intuition and a thick stack of phone numbers. They've saved a few scoops for the occasion, the biggest being the name of their early inside source, the "sacrificial lamb" H**h Sl**n. But Washingtonians who talked will be most surprised by the admission that their rumored contacts in the FBI and elsewhere never existed; many who were telephoned for "confirmation" were revealing more than they realized. The real drama, and there's plenty of it, lies in the private-eye tactics employed by Bernstein and Woodward (they refer to themselves in the third person, strictly on a last name basis). The centerpiece of their own covert operation was an unnamed high government source they call Deep Throat, with whom Woodward arranged secret meetings by positioning the potted palm on his balcony and through codes scribbled in his morning newspaper. Woodward's wee hours meetings with Deep Throat in an underground parking garage are sheer cinema: we can just see Robert Redford (it has to be Robert Redford) watching warily for muggers and stubbing out endless cigarettes while Deep Throat spills the inside dope about the plumbers. Then too, they amass enough seamy detail to fascinate even the most avid Watergate wallower — what a drunken and abusive Mitchell threatened to do to Post publisher Katherine Graham's tit, and more on the Segretti connection — including the activities of a USC campus political group known as the Ratfuckers whose former members served as a recruiting pool for the Nixon White House. As the scandal goes public and out of their hands Bernstein and Woodward seem as stunned as the rest of us at where their search for the "head ratfucker" has led. You have to agree with what their City Editor Barry Sussman realized way back in the beginning — "We've never had a story like this. Just never."

Pub Date: June 18, 1974

ISBN: 0671894412

Page Count: 372

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Oct. 10, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 1974

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