Well-researched, intelligent, and compassionate, but suffers unnecessarily from the absence of illustrations—and the...

GRANDES HORIZONTALES

THE LIVES AND LEGENDS OF MARIE DUPLESSIS, CORA PEARL, LA PAÏVA, AND LA PRÉSIDENTE

A scholarly but generally readable tour through some sexy and salacious byways in the social landscape of 19th-century France.

For her writing debut, translator and editor Rounding has picked a spicy topic: four notorious courtesans who plied their trade during the Second Empire (1852–70). Not everyone who wrote about Marie Duplessis, Cora Pearl, La Païva, and La Présidente could do so with disinterest, so in the extensive quotes from primary sources we read the fiery words of those who found love for sale morally repellant, and the serene comments of those more directly involved as buyers or sellers. The author begins with a snapshot of French prostitution and identifies the profession’s hierarchy, from the lowest of streetwalkers to the wealthy, dynamic women who plied their trade in the highest reaches of society. She then constructs from the available documentary evidence brief biographies of her four principals. In each of the stories, a young woman was forced by economic and social circumstance to achieve security by selling her body and company to eager men. All four of these particular women did very well for a time, moving in higher and higher circles, living in mansions, indulging in passions ranging from painting and conducting soirées (Flaubert and Feydeau called regularly on La Présidente) to acquiring horses and precious stones. Embroidering her narrative with lots of social and political history, Rounding tells us how fashionable hoop skirts cut into the income of the church (fewer people could fit in a pew), recalls the belief that women’s orgasms caused consumption, and describes how the Franco-Prussian war changed everything. She also repeats such delectably horrible anecdotes as the rumor that La Païva’s distraught husband kept her dead body immersed in a jar of embalming fluid.

Well-researched, intelligent, and compassionate, but suffers unnecessarily from the absence of illustrations—and the presence of too many long, congested quotations.

Pub Date: July 7, 2003

ISBN: 1-58234-260-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2003

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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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Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

TOMBSTONE

THE EARP BROTHERS, DOC HOLLIDAY, AND THE VENDETTA RIDE FROM HELL

Rootin’-tootin’ history of the dry-gulchers, horn-swogglers, and outright killers who populated the Wild West’s wildest city in the late 19th century.

The stories of Wyatt Earp and company, the shootout at the O.K. Corral, and Geronimo and the Apache Wars are all well known. Clavin, who has written books on Dodge City and Wild Bill Hickok, delivers a solid narrative that usefully links significant events—making allies of white enemies, for instance, in facing down the Apache threat, rustling from Mexico, and other ethnically charged circumstances. The author is a touch revisionist, in the modern fashion, in noting that the Earps and Clantons weren’t as bloodthirsty as popular culture has made them out to be. For example, Wyatt and Bat Masterson “took the ‘peace’ in peace officer literally and knew that the way to tame the notorious town was not to outkill the bad guys but to intimidate them, sometimes with the help of a gun barrel to the skull.” Indeed, while some of the Clantons and some of the Earps died violently, most—Wyatt, Bat, Doc Holliday—died of cancer and other ailments, if only a few of old age. Clavin complicates the story by reminding readers that the Earps weren’t really the law in Tombstone and sometimes fell on the other side of the line and that the ordinary citizens of Tombstone and other famed Western venues valued order and peace and weren’t particularly keen on gunfighters and their mischief. Still, updating the old notion that the Earp myth is the American Iliad, the author is at his best when he delineates those fraught spasms of violence. “It is never a good sign for law-abiding citizens,” he writes at one high point, “to see Johnny Ringo rush into town, both him and his horse all in a lather.” Indeed not, even if Ringo wound up killing himself and law-abiding Tombstone faded into obscurity when the silver played out.

Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-21458-4

Page Count: 400

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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