Essentially a critical study, Nguyen’s work is a powerful reflection on how we choose to remember and forget.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2016

  • National Book Award Finalist

  • National Book Critics Circle Finalist




A scholarly exploration of memory and the Vietnam War from an author “born in Vietnam but made in America.”

While Nguyen (English and American Studies & Ethnicity/Univ. of Southern California; The Sympathizer, 2015, etc.) focuses on the Vietnam War, the war that most intimately affected his Vietnamese family, his fine reflections on how to treat and preserve the memory of war “justly” extends to other neighboring wars such as those in Cambodia, Laos, Korea, the Philippines, and elsewhere. The “ethics of remembering” is complicated, as the author explains while walking readers through specific parts of Vietnam, because it involves not just grieving one’s nearest and dearest—e.g., visiting cemeteries of fallen family members—but feeling compassion for others, as the moving, reflective black wall of the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C., elicits beautifully. Nguyen stresses the importance of recognizing that we are not only the victims of horrible tragedy, but also the perpetrators: “Reminding ourselves that being human also means being inhuman is important simply because it is so easy to forget our inhumanity or to displace it onto other humans.” The author also explores the “memory industries,” such as Hollywood movies that cater to “young men’s erotic fascination with pure sex and war movies.” He looks at many examples of war memorials in Vietnam and Korea that attempt to bring the memory into the present, while books, especially novels by Vietnamese-Americans, convey senses of affirmation and redemption and allow the ghosts, literally, to speak. Grasping our essential inhumanity through art (a “true war story”), Nguyen affirms, is one way to resist the “memory industry,” the ultimate goal of which is to “reproduce power and inequality.” Finally, there is the role of “just” forgetting, which allows people to go on and live as well as to forgive.

Essentially a critical study, Nguyen’s work is a powerful reflection on how we choose to remember and forget.

Pub Date: April 5, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-674-66034-2

Page Count: 364

Publisher: Harvard Univ.

Review Posted Online: Jan. 10, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2016

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?