MAN OF ASHES

Distinguished by geography as well as by its painful testimony, Isacovici’s (d. 1998) memoir was first published in his adopted country of Ecuador. Like Elie Wiesel, Isacovici came from Sighet, Romania, and it took longer for the Holocaust to reach that far east. The comparison with Wiesel ends there, as we get mundane phrases like “my tenacious desire to survive”; otherwise, the co-author and the translator have done an admirable job with the unearthly suffering depicted here, and the unusual psychological self-awareness of the survivor. Isacovici, typically, has few theological insights about the momentous events he lives through, but there are a few reflective philosophical moments. The author’s peaceful childhood was already rocked by a sense of evil learned from predatory owls and a destructive flood. And while life with his large farm family was otherwise uncomplicated, young Salomon had already learned to smuggle to get ahead. Much of the memoir’s early drama involves the creeping Nazi threat opposing the Jews” wishful thinking—that the war might be ending and that “it can—t happen here.” The residents of the author’s town heard blood-curdling testimonies from Polish refugees, tales of massacre and rape. Only a few other memoirs document such breaks from the Nazis” code banning sex with non-Aryans, and, together with descriptions of the brothels at Auschwitz and the kapos as often being released prisoners “who slept with young boys chosen from among the prisoners,” the memoir offers these more unique bits of historical significance. The author’s family is shattered in Birkenau, but he survives Auschwitz with jobs peeling potatoes and mining coal at Jaworno, and he survives a gruesome death march as the Soviets advance. Isacovici is able to rejoin two brothers in a fruitless return to the family farm and to many European cities in search of a haven. He then joins the family of a woman with whom he has a serious romance, who end up with visas for Ecuador, where he feels an empathy for the suffering of the local Indians. Above average in the torrent of Holocaust memoirs, this account tells an unforgettable and unique story.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-8032-2501-6

Page Count: 244

Publisher: Univ. of Nebraska

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1999

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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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Thus the second most costly war in American history, whose “outcome seemed little short of a miracle.” A sterling account.

1776

A master storyteller’s character-driven account of a storied year in the American Revolution.

Against world systems, economic determinist and other external-cause schools of historical thought, McCullough (John Adams, 2001, etc.) has an old-fashioned fondness for the great- (and not-so-great) man tradition, which may not have much explanatory power but almost always yields better-written books. McCullough opens with a courteous nod to the customary villain in the story of American independence, George III, who turns out to be a pleasant and artistically inclined fellow who relied on poor advice; his Westmoreland, for instance, was a British general named Grant who boasted that with 5,000 soldiers he “could march from one end of the American continent to the other.” Other British officers agitated for peace, even as George wondered why Americans would not understand that to be a British subject was to be free by definition. Against these men stood arrayed a rebel army that was, at the least, unimpressive; McCullough observes that New Englanders, for instance, considered washing clothes to be women’s work and so wore filthy clothes until they rotted, with the result that Burgoyne and company had a point in thinking the Continentals a bunch of ragamuffins. The Americans’ military fortunes were none too good for much of 1776, the year of the Declaration; at the slowly unfolding battle for control over New York, George Washington was moved to despair at the sight of sometimes drunk soldiers running from the enemy and of their officers “who, instead of attending to their duty, had stood gazing like bumpkins” at the spectacle. For a man such as Washington, to be a laughingstock was the supreme insult, but the British were driven by other motives than to irritate the general—not least of them reluctance to give up a rich, fertile and beautiful land that, McCullough notes, was providing the world’s highest standard of living in 1776.

Thus the second most costly war in American history, whose “outcome seemed little short of a miracle.” A sterling account.

Pub Date: June 1, 2005

ISBN: 0-7432-2671-2

Page Count: 656

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2005

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