A FRENCH TRAGEDY

SCENES OF CIVIL WAR, SUMMER 1944

An unsparing look at a little-known episode of WW II that, according to the author, reveals the moral ambiguities that arise in situations of extreme violence. On D-Day in 1944, the combined partisan forces of a small town in central France took matters into their own hands and attempted to liberate the town from the Nazis and their collaborators, the French militia. That decision, according to the Bulgarian-born literary and social critic Todorov (Facing the Extreme: Moral Life in the Concentration Camps, 1996, etc.), set in motion the ``aesthetically perfect form'' of a tragedy. The partisans, once they realized that the arrival of the Allies was not imminent and local support unlikely, decided to retreat from the town. They took hostages from among the Vichy collaborators, including the wife of an important official. French militiamen in turn seized 70 Jewish adults and children and threatened to massacre them unless the Vichy hostages were returned. Todorov frames and narrates these events as tragedy because ``once in motion, everything seemed to be interconnected with an implacable rigor and because the causes of calamity were not contingent and could not be pushed aside—evil ensued from goodness itself; it seemed unavoidable.'' Readers may or may not be convinced by Todorov's argument that the protagonists were caught in a web of inexorable necessity; more disturbing is his assertion that the resistance fighters had some blame for the ensuing massacre. He seems to believe that the fascist militiamen were, in part, victims, too, despite the fact that the partisans were fighting for different ideals than their fascist enemies. In a way, the story of the town of Saint-Amand, symbolically located at the geographic center of France, is emblematic rather than exceptional; the tragedy unfolding here was being played out across France and Europe. Unsettling moral and ethical problems—captured in this provocative record of one small, bloody episode—that demand to be confronted.

Pub Date: Aug. 23, 1996

ISBN: 0-87451-747-8

Page Count: 160

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 1996

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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 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...

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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