A well-intentioned but uninspired memoir by the mother of folk singer Joan Baez. Joan Baez Sr. recalls two prison stays in 1967, both for civil disobedience at the Oakland Induction Center in protest of US involvement in the Vietnam War. Disappointingly, despite her passionate and sincere commitment to social justice, Baez does not emerge as a complicated or especially convincing person. Her revelations, though important, are those anyone might have in a prison: horror at the hopelessness of the ``regular'' prisoners, admiration for their strength, surprise at the kindness of a guard, a deeper empathy for the underclass, recognition of common human bonds despite schisms of race and class. Her stints in prison were a personal turning point, but she presents her experience in far too maudlin a manner; she describes the inmates' Christmas play, for example, as so touching that ``surely even the baby Jesus smiled.'' Even more unfortunately, clichÇs inform the way Baez develops her characters. Black prisoners are consistently reduced to racial caricature: by turns clownish, wily, or wide-eyed and childlike, waiting to be civilized by benevolent whites (the protesters frequently assume the latter role). There is also a tiresome tendency to play on readers' supposed reverence for fame; Baez was arrested along with her two daughters, Joan Baez and Mimi Farina, but noncelebrity Farina gets short shrift here. Indeed, Joan Sr. writes about Joan Jr. with a star-struck awe that is implausible in a mother; the world stands still when she sings, she says the right thing in confrontations with authorities, and everyone loves her, from hardened prison guards to Martin Luther King Jr. Proof that not everyone who has a transformative experience should write a book.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1994

ISBN: 1-880284-07-3

Page Count: 96

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1994

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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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