A sometimes brilliant and often moving poetic exploration of humanity’s warlike ways.

But By the Chance of War

A chronicle of mankind’s destructive urges through the ages, rendered in four epic poems spanning four wars and 1,500 years.

In his debut, Lyons offers a tetralogy—a group of four related plays written as epic poems in rhyming couplets, based on a style used in classical Athens, Greece, but unique for our age. He starts with an Indian conflict between the Gupta Empire and the invading Ephthalite Huns in the year 515, then moves on to the 1759 French and Indian War. Next he depicts a World War I battle at Amiens in 1918, followed by an undated global nuclear Armageddon, as viewed on computer screens in a Jerusalem bunker. Although widely disparate in time and place, some narratives share important threads: Brothers fight one another or participants see power, ambition and greed as the causes of conflict but stand by as the blood flows. Change is the only constant as empires rise and fall and one disaster foreshadows the next; for example, in the third poem, a priest blesses the body parts of British soldiers “blasted to atoms,” a prelude to the splitting of atoms in the fourth and final poem. In that nuclear disaster, a fictional U.S. secretary of state and his family fly into Israel to try to defuse the threats of a Middle Eastern leader, but even the leader’s brother can’t talk him out of starting a war. Lyons walks a high wire with this ambitious, difficult project—particularly with the rhyming couplets, which don’t always sing—but he successfully conveys a tragic picture of human depravity and ultimate self-destruction. Overall, it’s a work of great scholarship; not an easy read but not overly difficult, either, as ample footnotes and maps explain historical context when necessary.

A sometimes brilliant and often moving poetic exploration of humanity’s warlike ways.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2012

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 484

Publisher: Lylea Creative Resources

Review Posted Online: Sept. 6, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2013

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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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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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