PRUSSIAN NIGHTS

A POEM

Alexander Solzhenitsyn, author of those weighty novels, has here produced in narrative verse a rather terse poem, drawn from his battle experiences in the closing days of WW II, composed in his head and memorized in his prison camp days. One understands why, once the Byelorussian offensive sweep had reached the Baltic, so many of its officers and men were sent away; they had seen the fat richness of the West: paper, good pencils, shoes, clothing, schnapps—a world where even servant girls wore shoes, very unlike Mother Russia. This is one of the preoccupations of the youngish officer who speaks. The other is the memory of the first Great War, where Russian divisions were slaughtered, chewed up, in order to divert German soldiers from the Western Front, enabling the French to win the first battle of the Marne—and save Paris. The bitterness the narrator feels about those memories enables him to condone, at least to close his eyes to, the cruelties of his own men—rape of course, and looting and burning, even such gratuitous violence as shooting a baby in his carriage: one Kraut the less. (There was one little German boy who got away, winging and dodging into the woods in spite of the fire of a dozen Russian rifles.) "Amid the violence of the crowd,/ In my heart no violence calls./ I'll not fire one stick of kindling,/ Yet I'll not quench your flaming halls./ Untouched I'll leave you. I'll be off/ Like Pilate when he washed his hands./ Between us, there is Samsonov,/ Between us many a cross there stands/ Of whitened Russian bones." Robert Conquest defends his translation in a rather lengthy and explicit afterword, and no doubt he has accomplished his task creditably. The racy ballad meter belies the seriousness of the subject; the choice was Solzhenitsyn's own, but at times it demeans the poem. Nevertheless, this is a work of great interest, because of the poet's fame, because of the difficult circumstances of its composition, and because of its inherent contradiction; these are the battlefield recollections of a pacifist.

Pub Date: June 1, 1977

ISBN: 0374513910

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1977

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WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD

A LIFETIME OF RECORDINGS

Noted jazz and pop record producer Thiele offers a chatty autobiography. Aided by record-business colleague Golden, Thiele traces his career from his start as a ``pubescent, novice jazz record producer'' in the 1940s through the '50s, when he headed Coral, Dot, and Roulette Records, and the '60s, when he worked for ABC and ran the famous Impulse! jazz label. At Coral, Thiele championed the work of ``hillbilly'' singer Buddy Holly, although the only sessions he produced with Holly were marred by saccharine strings. The producer specialized in more mainstream popsters like the irrepressibly perky Teresa Brewer (who later became his fourth wife) and the bubble-machine muzak-meister Lawrence Welk. At Dot, Thiele was instrumental in recording Jack Kerouac's famous beat- generation ramblings to jazz accompaniment (recordings that Dot's president found ``pornographic''), while also overseeing a steady stream of pop hits. He then moved to the Mafia-controlled Roulette label, where he observed the ``silk-suited, pinky-ringed'' entourage who frequented the label's offices. Incredibly, however, Thiele remembers the famously hard-nosed Morris Levy, who ran the label and was eventually convicted of extortion, as ``one of the kindest, most warm-hearted, and classiest music men I have ever known.'' At ABC/Impulse!, Thiele oversaw the classic recordings of John Coltrane, although he is the first to admit that Coltrane essentially produced his own sessions. Like many producers of the day, Thiele participated in the ownership of publishing rights to some of the songs he recorded; he makes no apology for this practice, which he calls ``entirely appropriate and without any ethical conflicts.'' A pleasant, if not exactly riveting, memoir that will be of most interest to those with a thirst for cocktail-hour stories of the record biz. (25 halftones, not seen)

Pub Date: May 1, 1995

ISBN: 0-19-508629-4

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1995

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Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

A LITTLE HISTORY OF POETRY

A light-speed tour of (mostly) Western poetry, from the 4,000-year-old Gilgamesh to the work of Australian poet Les Murray, who died in 2019.

In the latest entry in the publisher’s Little Histories series, Carey, an emeritus professor at Oxford whose books include What Good Are the Arts? and The Unexpected Professor: An Oxford Life in Books, offers a quick definition of poetry—“relates to language as music relates to noise. It is language made special”—before diving in to poetry’s vast history. In most chapters, the author deals with only a few writers, but as the narrative progresses, he finds himself forced to deal with far more than a handful. In his chapter on 20th-century political poets, for example, he talks about 14 writers in seven pages. Carey displays a determination to inform us about who the best poets were—and what their best poems were. The word “greatest” appears continually; Chaucer was “the greatest medieval English poet,” and Langston Hughes was “the greatest male poet” of the Harlem Renaissance. For readers who need a refresher—or suggestions for the nightstand—Carey provides the best-known names and the most celebrated poems, including Paradise Lost (about which the author has written extensively), “Kubla Khan,” “Ozymandias,” “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” Wordsworth and Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads, which “changed the course of English poetry.” Carey explains some poetic technique (Hopkins’ “sprung rhythm”) and pauses occasionally to provide autobiographical tidbits—e.g., John Masefield, who wrote the famous “Sea Fever,” “hated the sea.” We learn, as well, about the sexuality of some poets (Auden was bisexual), and, especially later on, Carey discusses the demons that drove some of them, Robert Lowell and Sylvia Plath among them. Refreshingly, he includes many women in the volume—all the way back to Sappho—and has especially kind words for Marianne Moore and Elizabeth Bishop, who share a chapter.

Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-300-23222-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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