Brief appreciations of things Japanese, of the "richness, mobility, and subtlety" of the Japanese "exchange of signs": published in France in 1970, and Barthes at his most seductive. These are the observations of every traveler, translated (without strain) into recognitions. "The dinner tray seems a picture of the most delicate order"; it is actually a palette, "with which you are going to play in the course of your meal. . ." (In the next piece: "by chopsticks, food becomes no longer a prey to which one does violence . . . but a substance harmoniously transferred.") And this sequence of thoughts leads Barthes to remark on the absence of a center, "a precious heart," a deep meaning ("food is never anything but a collection of fragments"). There then comes Tokyo: a city with an "empty" center, the forbidden grounds of the (figurehead) Emperor's palace. Japan not only affords Barthes a profusion of complex signs, it suites his penchant for the formal—and for non-meaning, the absence of a symbolic charge. "The haiku is not a rich thought reduced to a brief form, but a brief event which immediately finds its proper form." Thus, also, the reflections on bowing; on Bunraku puppets; on the Zengakuren riots ("a great scenario of signs" climaxing in a purely vocal exercise—"The Zengakuren are going to fight"—without a subject or stated cause.) The Bunraku reflections echo the Bunraku piece included by Susan Sontag in A Barthes Reader (p. 621)—where Empire of Signs is lauded but not directly represented. The book is small and, even with 18 black-and-white illustrations, pricey. There is more concentrated pleasure here, however—along with fewer stylistic and other impediments—than in major works of the canon.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1982

ISBN: 0374522073

Page Count: 132

Publisher: Hill and Wang/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Oct. 10, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1982

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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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