A complex tale showing how hope and courage flourish, even in the toxic soil of totalitarianism.




As World War II looms, darkens and erupts, a group of artists, writers and other exiles gather in Marseilles, where their escapes are plotted and executed by a doughty group led by American Varian Fry.

If Sullivan’s writing seems at times a bit too perky and aimed at readers who know little about the Second World War, her subject matter is of surpassing importance—and her efforts are ultimately effective. An astonishing array of talent fled to Marseilles in the early 1940s, fleeing the Nazi advance, names recognizable as among the most significant in the 20th-century worlds of art and literature: Max Ernst, Peggy Guggenheim, André Breton, Victor Serge. Sullivan (Labyrinth of Desire, 2002) artfully interweaves their journeys and backstories. The escape narratives of Serge and Breton (told near the end) are as harrowing as any emerging from the War. Sullivan’s great contribution here, though, is to bring to life those committed Americans and Europeans who risked all to help others. Fry, who headed the Marseilles activities of the Emergency Rescue Committee (headquartered in New York City), stands out. Although his own government often impeded his work (erecting, rather than removing, barriers), and although the ERC eventually fired him (they found him abrasive), he saved the lives of many hundreds. He found for them difficult trails over the Pyrenees, fetid ships and slow trains—but in doing so, found them freedom. Sullivan also relates the stories of husband and wife Danny and Theo Bénédite, French nationals who worked tirelessly, even after multiple arrests. Others include Hans and Lisa Fittko (Germans), who guided refugees over the mountains, and American heiress Mary Jayne Gold, whose money kept the operation going in the early days. A number of the principals survived to publish their memoirs. The Marseilles villa, the structure where the fearful waited for visas and rescue, was razed in 1970.

A complex tale showing how hope and courage flourish, even in the toxic soil of totalitarianism.

Pub Date: Oct. 3, 2006

ISBN: 0-06-073250-4

Page Count: 544

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2006

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?


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

Did you like this book?