Novelist Naipaul, his narrative talent not altogether muffled by facts (here a heavy implementation of secondary source materials) and understatement, uses two incidents three centuries apart to tell the story of the "Ghost Province" of the island of Trinidad and more largely that of the frustration and futility of the colonial experience. The El Dorado of the title, and the first story is that of forgotten conquistador Antonio de Berrio. He began at the age of 60 to search for gold, concluded it at 75, "forlorne," captive and insane. It has its larger implications as will the second episode. El Dorado was then, as it would be again for Raleigh and others, the symbol of a "complete, unviolated world" always a day away. In the second part (with an inset on the intervening revolutions and the degraded slave society that was Trinidad) the chimera of El Dorado gives way to the brutality of (mal) administration by the colonists: the torture of a slave girl, Luisa Calderon, by British Governor Picton, who imposed a rule of "impartial terror," is subsidiary to the larger conflicts. On the one hand, England tries to impose its ideal of "Britishness as an ideal of justice and protection"—never perhaps possible in this mixed society of mixed national interests or via First Commissioner Fullarton who came to put down Picton and defend Luisa (later in the courts of England). On the other hand, Picton was the "victim of people's conscience, of ideas of humanity and reason that were ahead of the reality," Fullarton, the interventionist, was an equal casualty of all that was "deformed" and exploited in colonial society. . . . Dense and demanding reading, certainly for those not predisposed, Naipaul's bipartite study is more important (especially for an English audience) than its locus as a substantial inquiry and indictment.

Pub Date: April 15, 1970

ISBN: 1400030765

Page Count: 394

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Oct. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1970

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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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Bibliophiles will love this fact-filled, bookish journey.


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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