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PUSHKIN'S BUTTON

An Italian scholar’s unorthodox take on the events leading to Pushkin’s fatal duel reads like impassioned fiction. On January 27, 1837, one of Russia’s greatest poets, Alexander Pushkin, died as the result of a wound inflicted during a duel he—d fought to defend his wife’s honor. His opponent was none other than his sister-in-law’s husband, Georges d’Anthes, a French officer. Readers will recognize telltale signs in Vitale’s (Russian/Univ. of Pavia, Italy) narrative of the typically massive Russian novel: the cast of thousands (here enumerated in a 24-page “Index of Names”) and the story’s soap-opera-like overtones. Combining her own research with information gleaned from secondary literature and the memoirs and letters of Pushkin’s contemporaries, this account brims with humor, drama, scholarly insight, and a breathless conversational tone, hinting of espresso and cigarette smoke wafting in a cafe corner. Vitale’s approach, however, is not for everyone. The duel occurs some 242 pages into the text. Chapter titles, like the title of the book, are more poetic than informative. And the facts are often conveyed repetitiously. Still, the drawbacks seem finally beside the point, for Vitale brings to life the drama of Pushkin’s end, from the state of the poet “whose frenzied jealousy was known to all,” to the doings of his flirtatious wife and the royal court, Pushkin’s strained relations with the tsar, and the bizarre case of d’Anthes’s adoption by a Dutch ambassador and his affairs with the women of St. Petersburg. Also, the author eagerly takes up her role as detective, investigating d’Anthes’s circumstances, his opinion of Pushkin’s wife, and the circulated letter that provoked the duel. With its unabashed love of intrigue and nuance, Vitale’s unusual chronicle of Pushkin’s final days will appeal to any lover of Russian literature, history, and culture.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-374-23935-5

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 1998

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

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

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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 5, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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NIGHT

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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