Polish foreign correspondent Kapuciski (Another Day of Life, 1986) gives his recollections of Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East in this stark, compelling memoir of life in the vortex of modern history. From 1958 to 1976, Kapuciski, a journalist attached to the Polish press agency, moved through some of the most troubled regions of the postwar world. During the Congolese uprisings of 1960, the Algerian coup of 1965, the five-day ``Soccer War'' (ostensibly fought over a football match) between Honduras and El Salvador in 1969-everywhere, he found himself confronted by ``this strange world'' of peoples and nations trapped in the momentum of politics, a momentum that he could not escape himself. In the Congo he was taken for a spy, imprisoned, and very nearly executed; on the back roads of Nigeria he ran afoul of rebel troops, who robbed, beat, and attempted to immolate him. Kapuciski's tone throughout is quick, deft, understated, and manages vividly to convey the sense of overwhelming strangeness, of disorientation that a foreigner would experience in such settings. He succeeds also in nearly outlining the political and historical forces at work in each locale, and in the careers of the leaders of the time: Nkrumah in Ghana, Lumumba in the Congo, Ben Bella in Algeria-''the children of storms and pressures, born of the longings and desires not only of their own countries but of the whole continent.'' The narrative is impressionistic, almost meditative at times-as when the author,arriving in Chile after nearly ten years in Africa, contemplates the bric-a-brac in his furnished rooms and speculates upon the meaning of such collections. The final scene, in which Kapuciski, stranded in Ghana, is asked by a group of villagers to describe life in Poland, has a strongly elegiac tone, building upon those notions of homeland and exile evoked throughout the book. Exciting and profound: a fascinating account of history in the present tense, told with great skill and careful irony.

Pub Date: April 16, 1991

ISBN: 0-394-58413-9

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1991

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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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Bibliophiles will love this fact-filled, bookish journey.


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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