Kaplan does not promote Romania, but he has written a journalistic tour de force that will convince readers that it’s a...

IN EUROPE'S SHADOW

TWO COLD WARS AND A THIRTY-YEAR JOURNEY THROUGH ROMANIA AND BEYOND

Romania was a journalistic backwater when the author’s bestselling Balkan Ghosts appeared in 1993. In this equally captivating sequel, veteran journalist Kaplan (Asia's Cauldron: The South China Sea and the End of a Stable Pacific, 2014, etc.) brings matters up to 2015.

The Ukraine is across the border, Russia and the Middle East just beyond; all are hot spots putting increasing stress on Romania, which is making remarkable progress after 40 miserable years as a Soviet satellite following 10 as a Nazi ally. Its leader during the final 24 years of Soviet rule, Nicolae Ceausescu, enjoyed praise from the free world for his independence from Moscow, but he ran a particularly oppressive and corrupt government, “nothing less than a very Latin-style tyranny, a blend of Joseph Stalin and Juan Perón in the underbelly of Eastern Europe.” His murder by revolutionaries in 1989 left an impoverished nation with no democratic traditions, a situation that Kaplan described vividly in Balkan Ghosts. Repeating his technique in this book, the author zigzags around the country and occasionally beyond, admiring the landscape, describing the cities (crumbling Stalinist architecture giving way to vast malls and apartment complexes, with the occasional jewel from earlier centuries), and interviewing government officials, surviving apparatchiks, intellectuals, historians, and fellow journalists. He seems to have read every novel, history, and scholarly work on his subject and quotes liberally, delivering a scattershot, often contradictory, and always entertaining avalanche of opinions on Romania’s history, national character, and worries (mostly, again, about Russia).

Kaplan does not promote Romania, but he has written a journalistic tour de force that will convince readers that it’s a fascinating place whose people, past, and current geopolitical dilemma deserve our attention.

Pub Date: Feb. 2, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9681-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Nov. 18, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2015

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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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A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

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WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

A neurosurgeon with a passion for literature tragically finds his perfect subject after his diagnosis of terminal lung cancer.

Writing isn’t brain surgery, but it’s rare when someone adept at the latter is also so accomplished at the former. Searching for meaning and purpose in his life, Kalanithi pursued a doctorate in literature and had felt certain that he wouldn’t enter the field of medicine, in which his father and other members of his family excelled. “But I couldn’t let go of the question,” he writes, after realizing that his goals “didn’t quite fit in an English department.” “Where did biology, morality, literature and philosophy intersect?” So he decided to set aside his doctoral dissertation and belatedly prepare for medical school, which “would allow me a chance to find answers that are not in books, to find a different sort of sublime, to forge relationships with the suffering, and to keep following the question of what makes human life meaningful, even in the face of death and decay.” The author’s empathy undoubtedly made him an exceptional doctor, and the precision of his prose—as well as the moral purpose underscoring it—suggests that he could have written a good book on any subject he chose. Part of what makes this book so essential is the fact that it was written under a death sentence following the diagnosis that upended his life, just as he was preparing to end his residency and attract offers at the top of his profession. Kalanithi learned he might have 10 years to live or perhaps five. Should he return to neurosurgery (he could and did), or should he write (he also did)? Should he and his wife have a baby? They did, eight months before he died, which was less than two years after the original diagnosis. “The fact of death is unsettling,” he understates. “Yet there is no other way to live.”

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular clarity.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8840-6

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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