Though sometimes dry, a good choice for those who enjoy reading about life’s underdogs.

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THE BLACK RUSSIAN

Beginning his account with a daring escape from 1919 Russia to Constantinople, Alexandrov (Slavic Languages and Literature/Yale Univ.; Limits to Interpretation: The Meanings of Anna Karenina, 2004, etc.) promises a wild life of intrigue, deception and beating the odds for his subject.

Immediately following Frederick Bruce Thomas’ arrival in Turkey as a refugee without a country, the author moves back to the 1870s to examine Thomas’ childhood as the son of freed slaves in Mississippi. Though his parents were successful farmers and businesspeople after the end of the Civil War, rampant racism made life difficult, and Thomas left shortly after his father’s death. He made his way to Chicago and New York and in both cities took jobs in what Alexandrov calls “the elegant service industry,” gaining experience in the hospitality trade. After leaving New York, he traveled through Europe, continuing to work in the industry until he finally made his way to Russia and settled there. He eventually built his own entertainment empire in Moscow, becoming a rich man in an environment mostly free of racial prejudice. However, his success was interrupted by the events that begin the book: the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia and the subsequent pillaging of the wealthy. With Thomas’ life in danger in Russia and his family fragmented due to the war, the second half of the book focuses on his attempt to rebuild his life amid the political upheaval in Turkey. The obstacles to success were far greater in Constantinople, and this part of the book showcases the most difficult years of his life. Thomas’ story is certainly interesting, particularly since he was able to thrive in Europe in a way most African-American men of his generation couldn’t dream of. However, the author never recreates the prologue’s sense of urgency, and the narrative suffers from pacing issues throughout, with some parts reading like a novel and some like a history text.

Though sometimes dry, a good choice for those who enjoy reading about life’s underdogs.

Pub Date: March 5, 2013

ISBN: 978-0802120694

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Atlantic Monthly

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2013

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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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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

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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