A brief travelogue that bridges and comingles past and present.




French travel writer Tesson chronicles his journey following the route of Napoleon’s 1812 retreat from Moscow to Paris—200 years later, on motorcycle, in winter.

The two weeks documented here represent an adventure, pilgrimage, and challenge against the elements and the weight of history. In 2012, the author and a small group of friends decided to brave the elements of ice and snow on two motorcycles with sidecars, duplicating the route that, two centuries earlier, had been littered with corpses from the well-documented retreat of Napoleon, a “paradox, unique in Human History: an army marched, from victory to victory, toward its total annihilation!” Over the course of the text, Tesson evokes War and Peace, various historical accounts, and Napoleon’s own grandiose confessions, alternating with the contemporary account of following Napoleon’s tragic route. But why? “For the sheer glory of it.” There was much camaraderie on the trip but little glory, as the journey culminated less in triumph than in relief; ultimately, the dangers encountered and the historical horrors conjured hardly seemed worth the risk. As the author notes at one point, “doubt was worming its way into me: what the hell was I doing on a Ural [motorcycle] in the middle of December, with two fools in tow, when these damn machines are made to transport small, 90-pound Ukrainian women from Yalta beach to Simferopol on a summer afternoon?” Yet the meditative aspects of braving the elements on motorcycle offered time to reflect on the enduring legacy of the Franco-Russian conflict on both nations and the rest of the world, the visions that drove Napoleon to his death, and the differences in character between the Russians—in the era after Communism and the Soviet Union—and the French. Both the writer and the reader feel like they’ve really been through something when the journey is done and Tesson concludes, “I suddenly felt like going home, taking a shower, and washing off all those horrors.”

A brief travelogue that bridges and comingles past and present.

Pub Date: Nov. 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-60945-554-5

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Europa Compass

Review Posted Online: Aug. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 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...


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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For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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