A book of many wonders, of unfathomable sadness, of intense quiet and quick violence, of greed and grandeur, of...

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THE SHADOW OF THE SUN

A wrenching, poignant portrait of Africa and Africans by a Polish journalist who first visited the continent in 1957.

Kapuscinski (Imperium, 1994, etc.) displays uncommon courage and compassion in this account of his half-century of experiences in Africa. He begins with this observation: “The continent is too large to describe. It is a veritable ocean, a separate planet, a varied, immensely rich cosmos.” Yet he succeeds. The volume has a loose chronology (starting with Ghana’s independence in the mid-1950s, ending on a dark Christmas Eve in the 1990s when a wild elephant disrupts an outdoor party), but Kapuscinski’s observations are not bound by time: He allows his prose to flow freely through decades and across boundaries of place and culture. Deftly, he employs the keen edge of anecdote to make his incisions in the ignorance and complacency of the rest of the world. He is a superior teacher. We learn about an African conception of time: “Time appears as a result of our actions, and vanishes when we neglect or ignore it.” We learn that wildlife includes not only elephants and lions (it is only the old, slow ones that will deign to eat humans) but also the myriads of plants and insects that have no names. (One night he shares a room with roaches the size of small turtles.) We see the unspeakable poverty (a woman cries in the street: someone has stolen her only possession, a bowl) and experience violence so barbarous as to make one ashamed of humanity. His chapter on Rwanda—clear, unbearable in intensity—is a small masterpiece. Kapuscinski does not neglect the beautiful, the miraculous. He describes a visit to central Ethiopia where 11 medieval churches were built below ground level. He provides lyrical descriptions of mountains and plains—and of heat so intense that it causes minds to retreat into stupor.

A book of many wonders, of unfathomable sadness, of intense quiet and quick violence, of greed and grandeur, of illuminations blindingly bright.

Pub Date: April 24, 2001

ISBN: 0-679-45491-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2001

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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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Bibliophiles will love this fact-filled, bookish journey.

THE LIBRARY BOOK

An engaging, casual history of librarians and libraries and a famous one that burned down.

In her latest, New Yorker staff writer Orlean (Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend, 2011, etc.) seeks to “tell about a place I love that doesn’t belong to me but feels like it is mine.” It’s the story of the Los Angeles Public Library, poet Charles Bukowski’s “wondrous place,” and what happened to it on April 29, 1986: It burned down. The fire raged “for more than seven hours and reached temperatures of 2000 degrees…more than one million books were burned or damaged.” Though nobody was killed, 22 people were injured, and it took more than 3 million gallons of water to put it out. One of the firefighters on the scene said, “We thought we were looking at the bowels of hell….It was surreal.” Besides telling the story of the historic library and its destruction, the author recounts the intense arson investigation and provides an in-depth biography of the troubled young man who was arrested for starting it, actor Harry Peak. Orlean reminds us that library fires have been around since the Library of Alexandria; during World War II, “the Nazis alone destroyed an estimated hundred million books.” She continues, “destroying a culture’s books is sentencing it to something worse than death: It is sentencing it to seem as if it never happened.” The author also examines the library’s important role in the city since 1872 and the construction of the historic Goodhue Building in 1926. Orlean visited the current library and talked to many of the librarians, learning about their jobs and responsibilities, how libraries were a “solace in the Depression,” and the ongoing problems librarians face dealing with the homeless. The author speculates about Peak’s guilt but remains “confounded.” Maybe it was just an accident after all.

Bibliophiles will love this fact-filled, bookish journey.

Pub Date: Oct. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4018-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: July 2, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2018

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