A historically eye-opening memoir told with insight and wit.

COMMUNIST DAZE

THE MANY MISADVENTURES OF A SOVIET DOCTOR

A physician recounts three years of service in a small Soviet village and the horrors of the communist medical system. 

In exchange for tuition-free medical school, Tsesis (Why We Remain Jews, 2013) was obligated to perform three years of service as a doctor in an “underserved area”—in his case, Gradieshti, a farming village of 5,000 inhabitants in rural Moldova. The author was almost forcibly pushed into military service—he was threatened with academic failure—but saved from that fate because he was a pediatrician, a specialty dangerously underrepresented in the Soviet Union, which was plagued by terrifyingly high infant mortality rates. When he arrived in Gradieshti, he encountered remarkably primitive conditions—few homes enjoyed the unreliably delivered electricity or had indoor plumbing; poverty was crushing; alcoholism was “rampant”; and the sanitary conditions were appalling. In short, it was a woeful microcosm of the Soviet Union at large, vividly captured by the author. And the health system itself was nothing like the “grandiose global show” theatrically staged by the government—in fact, there were chronic shortages of basic medicines, including penicillin; undertrained doctors deprived of the best equipment; and ubiquitous corruption, all masked by mendaciously contrived data. In his memoir, Tsesis also chillingly describes his unfortunate encounters with an all-too-common anti-Semitism—in one recollection, he’s nearly ousted from a neighborhood tavern for being a “dirty kike.” And just as Soviet authorities disseminate false information to the outside world, they shield their own from exposure to more successful alternatives. Tsesis was denied permission to use his vacation time to take a cruise to the Mediterranean, the desire to travel considered inherently suspicious. The author’s remembrance is an edifying look at the wages of authoritarian rule, which resulted in the routine deaths of young children from easily treatable conditions like dehydration. His account is unflinching and often moving: The story a tearful wife shared with Tsesis captures the heart of this book. Her husband had to beg an official to give their sick child the proper medicine. She lamented: “I am a law-abiding citizen, but I ask you, is it fair to go through all this humiliation?” 

A historically eye-opening memoir told with insight and wit. 

Pub Date: Feb. 13, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-253-02594-4

Page Count: 238

Publisher: Indiana University Press

Review Posted Online: Nov. 20, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2019

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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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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