Amazing reporting, generous pictures, and the author’s true sense of connection with the locals add up to a truly honest...

BEHIND PUTIN'S CURTAIN

FRIENDSHIPS AND MISADVENTURES INSIDE RUSSIA

An intrepid German journalist recounts his 2016 adventures in the far-flung reaches of Russia.

Orth (Couchsurfing in Iran: Revealing a Hidden World, 2018, etc.), who served for nearly a decade as the travel editor at Der Spiegel, seems to crave learning about places other people would never dream of visiting—e.g., Mirny, Sakha Republic, in the far east of Russia, affectionately termed “the asshole of the world” due to its massive diamond-mine operation. The author is clearly unafraid of confronting “anti-aesthetics on a scale that makes you faint,” and he is determined to look deeper than the information provided by official Russian sources. In this quirky, subtly revealing work, Orth provides a useful snapshot of the character and tone of Vladimir Putin’s Russia. The author’s 9,500-kilometer journey began in Moscow, where his host was Genrich (from couchsurfing.com), a hypereducated polyglot with dozens of pages of initial interview queries who turned out to be an ideal conversationalist. Other hosts proved intelligent and keen, as well, such as when Orth visited the chess capital, Elista, in the autonomous Republic of Kalmykia; Astrakhan, on the Volga River; a farming community in Volgograd, in the southwest; or Sevastopol, the home port of the Black Sea Fleet, in the newly annexed Crimea. Orth also traveled to former Russian president Boris Yeltsin’s hometown of Yekaterinburg; there, the author reports that “in 1991, 71 percent of Russians considered themselves European…by 2008 the figure was only 21 percent.” From the Altai Republic in Siberia, where the author ventured for a week of crazy car travel with Nadya, to a retreat near Lake Baikal to the remote Olkhon island in Siberia, Orth manages to bring forth a side of Russian life rarely seen.

Amazing reporting, generous pictures, and the author’s true sense of connection with the locals add up to a truly honest view of Russia today.

Pub Date: May 7, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-77164-367-2

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Greystone Books

Review Posted Online: March 12, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2019

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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

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A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

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WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

A neurosurgeon with a passion for literature tragically finds his perfect subject after his diagnosis of terminal lung cancer.

Writing isn’t brain surgery, but it’s rare when someone adept at the latter is also so accomplished at the former. Searching for meaning and purpose in his life, Kalanithi pursued a doctorate in literature and had felt certain that he wouldn’t enter the field of medicine, in which his father and other members of his family excelled. “But I couldn’t let go of the question,” he writes, after realizing that his goals “didn’t quite fit in an English department.” “Where did biology, morality, literature and philosophy intersect?” So he decided to set aside his doctoral dissertation and belatedly prepare for medical school, which “would allow me a chance to find answers that are not in books, to find a different sort of sublime, to forge relationships with the suffering, and to keep following the question of what makes human life meaningful, even in the face of death and decay.” The author’s empathy undoubtedly made him an exceptional doctor, and the precision of his prose—as well as the moral purpose underscoring it—suggests that he could have written a good book on any subject he chose. Part of what makes this book so essential is the fact that it was written under a death sentence following the diagnosis that upended his life, just as he was preparing to end his residency and attract offers at the top of his profession. Kalanithi learned he might have 10 years to live or perhaps five. Should he return to neurosurgery (he could and did), or should he write (he also did)? Should he and his wife have a baby? They did, eight months before he died, which was less than two years after the original diagnosis. “The fact of death is unsettling,” he understates. “Yet there is no other way to live.”

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular clarity.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8840-6

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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