Of Literary Circles and Nightingales

Yakimov (Ashes of Wars, 2011, etc.) tells the story of several interconnected people in Bulgaria in this novel.

In a series of interlocking episodes that move across time and locality, the author introduces the reader to life in Sofia under communism. Nedah is under pressure from her parents to marry the brother of a co-worker in order to extend her valued citizenship to him, though she thinks the much-sought-after prize isn’t nearly as important as it’s cracked up to be. “I must be worth more than a Sofia citizenship,” she muses. Her friend Vera is anxious to get married, but the man she wishes to wed drags his feet. She seeks out a fortuneteller for advice, but what she hears is not to her liking; upon returning home, she swallows a hundred chloroquine pills in a suicide attempt. The narrative shifts to tell the stories of some of Sofia’s exiles: there is Svetozar Stoimenov, a recent university graduate locked into a three-year contract at a job he despises, who manages to escape Bulgaria for a new life abroad. Then there is Stephan Filipov, a man who successfully eludes capture following the execution of politician Nikola Petkov but has left his family back in Sofia to an unknown fate. Connecting the tales is a narrator, now far removed from Sofia and the time period, who uses memory and digression in an attempt to understand the past. Yakimov writes in a deliberative prose that seeks to replicate the ennui of her characters while also slipping in the occasional moment of wryness: “They had to find ways to overcome the consequences of the misfortunate fact of having been brought into this world in a place not entirely to their tastes, a condition usually discovered on reaching maturity.” A short novel at only 116 pages, it follows an unorthodox path, its story meandering much like its protagonists through the haunted, otherworldly streets of Sofia. While not exactly a page-turner, the spell of Yakimov’s prose should ferry patient readers to the end, and they will likely be grateful for the experience. A compact, but wide-ranging tale of dislocation in Sofia.

Pub Date: March 1, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5236-2991-6

Page Count: 130

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: May 30, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2016

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However charily one should apply the word, a beautiful book, an unconditionally involving memoir for our time or any time.

I KNOW WHY THE CAGED BIRD SINGS

Maya Angelou is a natural writer with an inordinate sense of life and she has written an exceptional autobiographical narrative which retrieves her first sixteen years from "the general darkness just beyond the great blinkers of childhood."

Her story is told in scenes, ineluctably moving scenes, from the time when she and her brother were sent by her fancy living parents to Stamps, Arkansas, and a grandmother who had the local Store. Displaced they were and "If growing up is painful for the Southern Black girl, being aware of her displacement is the rust on the razor that threatens the throat." But alternating with all the pain and terror (her rape at the age of eight when in St. Louis With her mother) and humiliation (a brief spell in the kitchen of a white woman who refused to remember her name) and fear (of a lynching—and the time they buried afflicted Uncle Willie under a blanket of vegetables) as well as all the unanswered and unanswerable questions, there are affirmative memories and moments: her charming brother Bailey; her own "unshakable God"; a revival meeting in a tent; her 8th grade graduation; and at the end, when she's sixteen, the birth of a baby. Times When as she says "It seemed that the peace of a day's ending was an assurance that the covenant God made with children, Negroes and the crippled was still in effect."

However charily one should apply the word, a beautiful book, an unconditionally involving memoir for our time or any time.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 1969

ISBN: 0375507892

Page Count: 235

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1969

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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

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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