A riveting portrait of what Kurt Weill called the “total breakdown of all human dignity,” revealed through the bric-a-brac...

SWANSONG 1945

A COLLECTIVE DIARY OF THE LAST DAYS OF THE THIRD REICH

From the absurd to the sublime, and everywhere heartbreaking: a collage of voices from the tail end of the world’s conflagration.

In 2005, German novelist Kempowski (1929-2007) published this cross section of voices, ordinary and otherwise, commenting on the end of World War II in German as part of a series of compositions largely exploring German guilt for the war. Over 20 years, he collected an astonishing array of autobiographies, letters, diaries and other documents to create a raw, tremendously moving set of reactions to the momentous events of April through May 1945: the lugubrious birthday celebrations of Adolf Hitler on April 20, the Allied liberation, VE-Day, and the very different takes by the international participants on the final signing of Germany’s capitulation at Karlshorst, Berlin, on May 8. In the preface, Kempowski notes that he composed this wealth of voices like an imagined Tower of Babel, revealing a similarly teetering longing by frail and inadequate humans for some kind of recognition of or consolation for their experience and suffering. Among dozens of other situations, the author examines German soldiers lying wounded in American hospitals; Joseph Goebbels, the “diabolical seducer,” continuing his vituperative radio address, declaring that “Chaos will be tamed!”; the scores of Berliners vulnerable to the retribution of marauding Russians; the prisoners in concentration camps, hanging by the barest thread; Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel, persistent in his maddeningly correct accounts until the very last signing ceremony; and Hitler’s own final maniacal insistence that the blame of the war lay squarely with the Jews. Kempowki juxtaposes the voices of the poignantly unknown with the famous—from Thomas Mann eagerly following the movements of the Allied armies into Germany from his home in Los Angeles to Edmund Wilson in London wondering what the “roast duck” on the menu really was (probably crow).

A riveting portrait of what Kurt Weill called the “total breakdown of all human dignity,” revealed through the bric-a-brac of war-shattered lives.

Pub Date: April 13, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-393-24815-9

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Dec. 17, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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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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