A stronger authorial voice would have strengthened this book considerably.



Indomitable women, trapped in war.

In this troubling history of four American women caught in the Philippines during World War II, historian Kaminski (History/Univ. of Wisconsin-Stevens Point; Citizen of Empire: Ethel Thomas Herold, an American in the Philippines, 2011, etc.) presents her subjects as daring, selfless, determined, and astonishingly brave. Each aided the guerrilla movement, sent food and supplies to prisoners of war, and risked their lives. The author focuses most intensively on two: Peggy Utinsky, a nurse who arrived in Manila in the 1920s, was widowed when her husband died of influenza, and in 1934 married an Army lieutenant. Claire Phillips came in 1938, looking for adventure and a career in show business. She soon met a handsome Filipino who worked as a ship’s steward, and after a brief courtship, they married. When that marriage unraveled, Claire sailed to America, only to return in 1941, when she met Pvt. John Phillips, whom she thereafter claimed was her husband. Drawing on Claire’s and Peggy’s memoirs, Claire’s FBI files, and published and unpublished memoirs of POWs and military personnel, Kaminski paints a vivid picture of the horrors of the Japanese occupation: the Bataan Death March, epidemics of malaria and dysentery, widespread beriberi and pellagra. She details Claire’s part in an underground movement, based in a nightclub she opened; Peggy established an organization called Miss U that provided prisoner relief. Both women were eventually arrested, and the author relates the torture, beatings, and starvation they suffered. But did they? Co-workers disputed their accounts: Peggy was not tortured for a month, emerging half-dead, but was questioned for only a few days and bore no bruises; Claire exaggerated her wartime work to outlandish proportions. Kaminski blames PTSD for Claire’s deception and possible alcoholism for Peggy’s, but some readers may wonder what in the narrative is verifiable history. Furthermore, the author frequently changes tenses, even midsentence, which makes for jarring reading.

A stronger authorial voice would have strengthened this book considerably.

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-19-992824-8

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: Aug. 17, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2015

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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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Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.



Rootin’-tootin’ history of the dry-gulchers, horn-swogglers, and outright killers who populated the Wild West’s wildest city in the late 19th century.

The stories of Wyatt Earp and company, the shootout at the O.K. Corral, and Geronimo and the Apache Wars are all well known. Clavin, who has written books on Dodge City and Wild Bill Hickok, delivers a solid narrative that usefully links significant events—making allies of white enemies, for instance, in facing down the Apache threat, rustling from Mexico, and other ethnically charged circumstances. The author is a touch revisionist, in the modern fashion, in noting that the Earps and Clantons weren’t as bloodthirsty as popular culture has made them out to be. For example, Wyatt and Bat Masterson “took the ‘peace’ in peace officer literally and knew that the way to tame the notorious town was not to outkill the bad guys but to intimidate them, sometimes with the help of a gun barrel to the skull.” Indeed, while some of the Clantons and some of the Earps died violently, most—Wyatt, Bat, Doc Holliday—died of cancer and other ailments, if only a few of old age. Clavin complicates the story by reminding readers that the Earps weren’t really the law in Tombstone and sometimes fell on the other side of the line and that the ordinary citizens of Tombstone and other famed Western venues valued order and peace and weren’t particularly keen on gunfighters and their mischief. Still, updating the old notion that the Earp myth is the American Iliad, the author is at his best when he delineates those fraught spasms of violence. “It is never a good sign for law-abiding citizens,” he writes at one high point, “to see Johnny Ringo rush into town, both him and his horse all in a lather.” Indeed not, even if Ringo wound up killing himself and law-abiding Tombstone faded into obscurity when the silver played out.

Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-21458-4

Page Count: 400

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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