An uneven collection enlivened by some bright spots.

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RIVER OF INK

LITERATURE, HISTORY, ART

Assorted essays about people, places and ideas.

Editor, publisher and blogger Christensen (1616: The World in Motion, 2012, etc.) intends each essay to make “sense of a little corner of things, each one starting from a different thread of the fabric of everything.” That amorphous goal fails to provide coherence for the collection, which contains various writings: histories, author profiles, book reviews, and political and cultural commentary. Christensen organizes the essays by continent. The pieces on West Asia are linked by the theme of cultural repression: the Taliban’s destruction of artworks, for example, and the title essay, which refers to the Mongol siege of Baghdad in 1258, when the contents of the Grand Library were dumped into the Tigris. “For six months,” the author writes, “…the waters of the Tigris flowed black from the ink of the books.” Other geographical sections, though, contain essays that are only tenuously connected to place. “Australia, Southeast Asia,” for example, contains two essays: a profile of the Australian writer Ethel Richardson, who wrote under the pseudonym Henry Handel Richardson, and a brief homage to Thai artist Montien Boonma, whose installation House of Hope the author admires. In the section on Europe, Christensen writes about the Spanish poet José Ángel Valente, writers Lewis Carroll and Horace Walpole, Céline’s love of dance, and Johannes Kepler. The author writes that since he is not a scholar, readers should not expect essays to support an argument, but some pieces (on Chinese history, for one) read like Wikipedia entries and beg for a theme. Nevertheless, although the collection is diffuse, Christensen’s lively curiosity informs several quirky and engrossing essays: “Journeys of the Iron Man” documents how a mid-19th-century iron statue commissioned by an African king came to be “branded a masterpiece of world art,” and “Sadakichi and America” brings to light the life and multiple identities of a slippery character well-known in avant-garde circles.

An uneven collection enlivened by some bright spots.

Pub Date: Dec. 16, 2014

ISBN: 978-1619024267

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Counterpoint

Review Posted Online: Sept. 28, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2014

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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 PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

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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