Wheeler is impressively well read in Russia’s literary golden age, but her pocket biographies could better blend with her...

MUD AND STARS

TRAVELS IN RUSSIA WITH PUSHKIN, TOLSTOY, AND OTHER GENIUSES OF THE GOLDEN AGE

The veteran British travel writer roams around Russia, inspired by some of its most storied writers.

In the introduction to this adventurous but not always cohesive book, Wheeler (Access All Areas: Selected Writings 1990-2010, 2011, etc.) notes that she aspires to show how Russian literary titans like Dostoyevsky, Pushkin, and Tolstoy spoke both to their time and to present-day Russia. However, in most of the pages that follow, she’s not engaging in socio-literary criticism so much as using those authors to lend gravitas to her efforts to grasp the country’s current melancholic mood. Near Pushkin’s ancestral home, she met a man boozily complaining about Putin; a chapter ostensibly about Dostoyevsky detours into her struggles learning Russian, nearly getting mugged at a St. Petersburg train station, and meeting some couch-surfing youths. Wheeler notes that her Russian teacher adores Turgenev but never explains why; a trip to the Caucasus to walk in Lermontov’s footsteps leads to some digressive grousing about the country’s poor preparation for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi and sour conclusion that “being Russian has always been miserable.” This rhetorical disconnect is especially unfortunate because the text sings when Wheeler thoughtfully weaves her chosen writers with her travels. In Ivan Goncharov’s 1859 novel, Oblomov, she finds a Bartleby-esque symbol of the national character, particularly in his hometown in Russia’s far eastern region, where there are now “dozens of sets of traffic lights, many of which work.” Wheeler’s admiring visit to Tolstoy’s estate thoughtfully captures the author’s mordant mood and his hypocrisies—e.g., his churchy pronouncements about austerity belied more than a dozen illegitimate children). More often, though, the book is best appreciated as light travelogue bolstered with some literary history.

Wheeler is impressively well read in Russia’s literary golden age, but her pocket biographies could better blend with her excursions.

Pub Date: Nov. 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5247-4801-2

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: Aug. 4, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

Did you like this book?

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

Did you like this book?

more