A haunting history-cum-travelogue, as Parfitt (Hebrew & Jewish Studies/Univ. of London) sleuths out the claims of the Lemba of South Africa, a black people who believe themselves to be the legendary lost tribe of Israel. As Parfitt showed in The Thirteenth Gate (1987), scattered groups around the world claim, usually on little evidence, to be Jews (the Falasha of Ethiopia are the best-known example). The Lemba, too, insist that once they were white, rich, and free—a Hebrew tribe that traveled to Africa, built the ancient city of Great Zimbabwe, and then somehow became black, poor, and disenfranchised in South Africa. Why these claims, asks Parfitt? Is it because Jewishness is a ``symbol of uniqueness or exclusivity''? Is it because the Lemba wish to emigrate to Israel? No clear answer emerges, but Parfitt's Africa is an unforgettable land of kooks, crooks, and dreamers. In an Afrikaaner stronghold in South Africa, he runs up against nasty white racism, and, in a black township, a professor in a lizard-infested house rants about his own genius while delivering salvos of Lemba lore. Meanwhile, Afrocentrists lash out at Parfitt for challenging Great Zimbabwe's black origins. Then it's on to Zimbabwe, where Parfitt eats fried ants and dances with naked revelers before being socked in the jaw as a friendly warning to keep his distance. A visit to Ian Smith, embittered ex-president of Rhodesia, does nothing to alleviate the dotty atmosphere. Finally, heading home, Parfitt is robbed twice by police, a fitting wrap-up to his bizarre journey. In an epilogue, the author springs a last surprise: perhaps the Lemba are not Jews, but Muslims who have forgotten Mohammed and the Koran, leaving a residue of Judaic practice (fasting, circumcision) carried on to this day. Like Paul Theroux with a Ph.D.: the best in adventure-scholarship. (Photos—not seen.)

Pub Date: Feb. 22, 1993

ISBN: 0-312-08829-9

Page Count: 288

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 1992

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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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