A highly readable and powerful account of an oft-ignored struggle and the lives it came to shatter.




In the wake of a 30-year guerrilla war, New Delhi–based journalist Subramanian (Following Fish: Travels Around the Indian Coast, 2012, etc.) explores the root causes and human cost of the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka.

The author grew up in India, where he spoke Tamil, a background that granted him astonishing access to the Tamil-speaking people of Sri Lanka, where this minority has long suffered at the hands of the Sinhalese. Subramanian’s approach to the civil war is both a rich travelogue and a deeply personal series of anecdotes. The author spent time with a range of survivors, collecting their life stories and weaving them seamlessly together. Yet the political climate in Sri Lanka is so convoluted that most of these accounts end in confusion. Early on, Subramanian describes the “Grease Yaka,” mysterious figures who may (or may not) have been attacking rural women at night, and each faction blamed the others. This chapter sets the tone for the entire book, in which people chase shadows in an effort to comprehend their losses and rebuild their lives. One striking figure, Ananthy, insists that her husband surrendered to the regime and is still imprisoned somewhere, despite the authorities’ claim that the veteran guerrilla is missing or dead. Subramanian chronicles atrocities on all sides, from the Tamil Tiger revolutionaries to the ruthless Sri Lankan military. By the final act, even the author was spent. “My brain refused to absorb the news of one more death,” he writes, “as if it was just full to its brim and was now shutting down in protest.” His reportage is strong, but stronger still is his prose; Subramanian writes with eloquence. Sri Lanka’s plight is almost unknown in American media, but thanks to Subramanian’s gifts, the war has finally found its English-language amanuensis.

A highly readable and powerful account of an oft-ignored struggle and the lives it came to shatter.

Pub Date: Dec. 15, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-250-06974-0

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Dunne/St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Oct. 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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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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