Each autobiography here transforms the story of a private life into the story of the country and the times: a volume sure to...




A collection of life stories of Russian women, accompanied by an analytical introduction and edited by scholars Fitzpatrick (History/Univ. of Chicago) and Slezkine (History/Univ. of California), from the perspective of direct participants in the unfolding historical drama begun in 1917.

Contributing to the completeness of the picture, the documents selected for this publication vary in genre from literary autobiographies to edited interviews to formal letters and speeches, and their authors are just as diverse in social class, experience, age, and occupation. The objectivity of the narrative is bolstered because events are assessed from opposite points of view (from that of both the victims and the beneficiaries of the Revolution). These antagonistic positions merge in camp memoirs written by those who were at first strong supporters of the Bolshevik cause, but later fell from grace. One principle unifying almost all the narratives is the suppression of personal information. Instead of the traditional focus on marriage, childbirth, and family life, these women defined themselves in terms of historical and public events. The Revolution, civil war, collectivization, and industrialization were the major milestones of their lives. These personal accounts differ significantly in length and style. From Lenin’s wife Nadezhda Krupskaia, for instance, we have a brief, dry, and extremely factual third-person account of her political activities. Princess Sofia Volkonskaia, on the other hand, produced a highly emotional story of her return to Russia from emigration in order to rescue her husband from jail. But even here, private circumstances are viewed against the broader background of disarray and brutality that reigned in post-revolutionary Russia. Yet another patriotic and upbeat narrative filled with praise of Stalin can be found in the autobiography of the Soviet Union’s most decorated labor hero, tractor driver and Supreme Soviet Deputy Pasha Angelina.

Each autobiography here transforms the story of a private life into the story of the country and the times: a volume sure to attract early Soviet history buffs.

Pub Date: June 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-691-01949-5

Page Count: 436

Publisher: Princeton Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2000

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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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