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




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...


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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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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