This is an ambitious attempt at writing Soviet history in a new key. After reading through hundreds of personal, unpublished diaries, the editors chose nine that represent a cross-section of Soviet society during the 1930s. Garros (National Center for Scientific Research), Korenevskaya (Progress Publishers, Moscow), and Lahusen (Slavic Languages and Literature/Duke Univ.) have succeeded in illuminating that complex matrix of the public and the private. The book begins with a fascinating chapter that juxtaposes excerpts from Istvestia, the official newspaper of the regime, with entries from the diary of a peasant on a collective farm. Ironically, nothing could prove better the unbridgeable abyss that separated official Soviet culture from the working class. The political bombast and paeans to Stalin's achievements are sharply contrasted by the daily concerns of the weather, the harvest, and the price of potatoes in the farmer's diary. Curiously, some of the diaries fail even to mention the purge trials that were the defining events of 1937. Instead they focus on the intimate problems confronting ordinary citizens. The diaries include those of a poet, a housewife, an informer for the State Security, and an intellectual resisting the Terror. But perhaps the fate of Andre S. Arzhilovsky is most representative of the period: A farmer who refused to betray his conscience, he was sent to prison, released, organized a peasant cooperative, became editor of a local paper. Arrested again, he was sentenced to a labor camp and released after seven years. Arzhilovsky, unlike the others, signed his diaries; after they were confiscated by the police, he was executed. A rare and extraordinary portrait of Soviet society in a critical decade, comprising fear, bravery, bathos, tragedy, and even humorin sum, the broad range of human responses to inhumanity. (10 b&w photos)

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1995

ISBN: 1-56584-200-6

Page Count: 400

Publisher: The New Press

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1995


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


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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