Strong prose and a lively atmosphere keep Siemon-Netto’s memoir from getting bogged down despite its scattered focus.


Duc 2nd Edition: Triumph of the Absurd


Being a wartime correspondent opens the door to heroism and heartbreak, as demonstrated in Siemon-Netto’s uneven but powerful memoir of his time covering the Vietnam War.

Already a seasoned reporter by the time he arrived in Vietnam in the 1960s, Siemon-Netto was well-positioned to watch a clash of cultures and governments not just on the front lines, but in the back country and city streets of a country he learned to love over the course of his five-year assignment. From counterinsurgent experts to street orphans living in his car, Siemon-Netto explored many facets of Vietnamese society and came to respect the tenacity and ingenuity of its people. In the course of his book, he both celebrates the Vietnam he knew and deplores what it became, saving particular scorn for the failure of will in the West—a “deficiency endemic in liberal democracies,” he says—that allowed North Vietnam to “win” the conflict. As would be expected from a longtime professional journalist, Siemon-Netto’s prose is clean and direct; it evokes the physical and cultural atmospheres of 1960s Vietnam without straining for effect. He introduces a large cast of characters—some fleeting, others persistent—and economically sketches their essential traits with admirable precision. However, while he straightforwardly expresses his political viewpoints regarding the will to carry on a protracted conflict against a determined enemy, the tone and thematic arc of the book aren’t quite as well-maintained. At times, the book becomes more of a travelogue with personal reminiscences that, often as not, don’t tie back into the overall narrative. By switching back and forth without apparent tonal or thematic justifications, the book’s overall thrust is diluted. Despite this lack of focus, however, Siemon-Netto’s sharp, intelligible prose and ability to evoke character and mood serve the book well, and many readers looking for a personal, free-form trek through a pivotal time in 20th-century history will be satisfied.

Strong prose and a lively atmosphere keep Siemon-Netto’s memoir from getting bogged down despite its scattered focus.

Pub Date: Jan. 22, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4949-7040-6

Page Count: 254

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: April 30, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2014

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Bibliophiles will love this fact-filled, bookish journey.


An engaging, casual history of librarians and libraries and a famous one that burned down.

In her latest, New Yorker staff writer Orlean (Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend, 2011, etc.) seeks to “tell about a place I love that doesn’t belong to me but feels like it is mine.” It’s the story of the Los Angeles Public Library, poet Charles Bukowski’s “wondrous place,” and what happened to it on April 29, 1986: It burned down. The fire raged “for more than seven hours and reached temperatures of 2000 degrees…more than one million books were burned or damaged.” Though nobody was killed, 22 people were injured, and it took more than 3 million gallons of water to put it out. One of the firefighters on the scene said, “We thought we were looking at the bowels of hell….It was surreal.” Besides telling the story of the historic library and its destruction, the author recounts the intense arson investigation and provides an in-depth biography of the troubled young man who was arrested for starting it, actor Harry Peak. Orlean reminds us that library fires have been around since the Library of Alexandria; during World War II, “the Nazis alone destroyed an estimated hundred million books.” She continues, “destroying a culture’s books is sentencing it to something worse than death: It is sentencing it to seem as if it never happened.” The author also examines the library’s important role in the city since 1872 and the construction of the historic Goodhue Building in 1926. Orlean visited the current library and talked to many of the librarians, learning about their jobs and responsibilities, how libraries were a “solace in the Depression,” and the ongoing problems librarians face dealing with the homeless. The author speculates about Peak’s guilt but remains “confounded.” Maybe it was just an accident after all.

Bibliophiles will love this fact-filled, bookish journey.

Pub Date: Oct. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4018-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: July 2, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2018

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet