INDIA

A WOUNDED CIVILIZATION

Far from being undercut by the new Indian elections, Naipaul has in essence overtaken events. When his inquiry into the Emergency appeared serially in the New York Review of Books, Indira Gandhi seemed destined to rule India for life; then, suddenly, elections were called, the Government fell, the Emergency officially ended. One saw the victors, in homespun, worshipping at Mohandas Gandhi's shrine, led by the new Prime Minister, Morarji Desai. "The Gandhianism of a man like Mr. Desai. . . offered nothing," Naipaul writes. "At its heart were the old Indian attitudes of defeat, the idea of withdrawal, a turning away from the world. . . 'simplicity.'" Close by is J. P. Narayan: on the eve of his 1975 imprisonment he reiterated Gandhi's 60-year-old appeal to Indian antiquity for independence from the British: "Swaraj means Ramraj," self-rule means Rama rule. "We have gone back to the solace of incantation," Naipaul observes in another context, "and back to Gandhi as to the only Indian truth." Gandhi is blamed for not leaving independent India with an ideology, for not giving its people an identity, in place of self-absorption, obedience, submission. Indians are blamed for embracing the "culture of distress" and eschewing self-examination. Rich Westerners are blamed for exporting "their romantic doubts about industrial civilization." Repeatedly: "Indian poverty is more dehumanizing than any machine." But the masses are stirring, Naipual finds, learning "new ways of seeing and feeling." A Cooperative irrigation scheme challenges the status quo. An industrial job, exercising new skills, is a source of pride. A Bombay squatters' settlement now governs itself: "Identity there was no problem; it was a discovery." Naipaul is angry and hopeful. Readers would be well advised to take his stimulating appraisal with the morning papers.

Pub Date: June 10, 1977

ISBN: 1400030757

Page Count: 175

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Oct. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 1977

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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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Bibliophiles will love this fact-filled, bookish journey.

THE LIBRARY BOOK

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

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