A harrowing compilation of accounts from survivors of Japanese POW camps in the eastern Pacific. The editors, who previously collaborated on Building the Death Railway: The Ordeal of American POWs in Burma (not reviewed), have selected material concerning the trauma of surrender and capture, the physical and psychological conditions suffered by POWs. Some of the oral histories are startling indeed. Desperate for food (it was Japanese policy to provide only daily rice, a spoonful of sugar a week, and virtually nothing else), POWs killed and ate anything they could get their hands on. One prisoner remembers a man riding the back of an enormous monitor lizard, trying desperately to cut its throat as it carried him through the camp. Another recalls throwing water buffaloes over the bridges they were constructing, because the guards would shoot the animals and give the carcasses to the prisoners. For some, though, the war was paradoxically kind. One prisoner at Kanthanaburi in Thailand (close to the infamous River Kwai bridge) remembers: ``That was the land of milk and honey as far as I was concerned.... You could eat all the old fruit you wanted and all the duck eggs you could eat.'' But this is the exception. Most of the stories, in particular those about the Bataan Death March, are horrifying. Resistance and sabotage occurred as well. One man, in symbolic defiance, kept a Marine Corps ring hidden in his rectum for two and a half years. An electrician dropped a live cable into a truck full of Japanese soldiers in metal beds. Others caused minor explosions at the industrial plants where they were forced to work, or sabotaged military vehicles. A grim portrait of brutality, fanaticism, and the cheapness of human life in wartime, etched by people whose voices have been faithfully rendered.

Pub Date: June 1, 1994

ISBN: 0-8420-2464-6

Page Count: 320

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 1994

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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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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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