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 20, 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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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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