Friday, November 30, 2012

Review: We Are Witnesses: Five Diaries of Teenagers Who Died in the Holocaust by Jacob Boas



We Are Witnesses: Five Diaries of Teenagers who Died During the Holocaust by Jacob Boas reveals the diaries of five Jewish teenagers who, although they recorded their experiences during the war, were not able to survive the Holocaust that rapidly consumed those around them. The diaries of David Rubinowicz, Yitzhak Rudashevski, Moshe Flinker, Eve Heyman and finally, Anne Frank are each explored through a brief biography of the history and short lives of these teenagers along with a series of quotes from the diaries or other records that they left behind. Although Boas provides ample information about the lives of each diaries, none of the diaries are quoted extensively. We are told mainly of what the teenagers wrote about, and given long quote or two--but there is too much "tell" on behalf of the author when showing would have been a more effective way of revealing the characteristics of these teenager writers to the reader. Despite this shortcoming, the book is still a worthwhile introduction which may give readers both context and a starting point for reading the full diaries left behind by those who did not survive.
"Dear diary, I don't want to die. I want to live even if it means that I'll be the only person here allowed to stay. I would wait for the end of the war in some cellar, or on the roof, or in some secret cranny. I would even let the cross-eyed gendarme, the one who took our flour from us, kiss me, just as long as they didn't kill me, only that they should let me live.
 --The last entry in the diary of Eva Heyman, before she and her family were deported to Poland. She was murdered in the gas chambers upon her arrival to Auschwitz.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Featured Book: Tombstone: The Great Chinese Famine by Yang Jisheng

Tombstone: The Great Chinese Famine (1958-1962) by Yang Jisheng

An estimated thirty-six million Chinese men, women and children starved to death during China’s Great Leap Forward in the late 1950’s and early ‘60’s. One of the greatest tragedies of the twentieth century, the famine is poorly understood, and in China is still euphemistically referred to as the “three years of natural disaster.”

As a journalist with privileged access to official and unofficial sources, Yang Jisheng spent twenty years piecing together the events that led to mass nationwide starvation, including the death of his own father. Finding no natural causes, Yang lays the deaths at the feet of China’s totalitarian Communist system and the refusal of officials at every level to value human life over ideology and self-interest.

Tombstone is a testament to inhumanity and occasional heroism that pits collective memory against the historical amnesia imposed by those in power. Stunning in scale and arresting in its detailed account of the staggering human cost of this tragedy, Tombstone is written both as a memorial to the lives lost—an enduring tombstone in memory of the dead—and in hopeful anticipation of the final demise of the totalitarian system. Ian Johnson, writing in The New York Review of Books, called the Chinese edition of Tombstone “groundbreaking…The most authoritative account of the great famine…One of the most important books to come out of China in recent years.”

You can read more about the writing of this book and Jisheng's experiences in a two-part article here.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Wales and the French Revolution: 2012 and 2013 Releases

If you've been following the new and upcoming releases about the French Revolution, then you may have noticed an abundance of titles from the University of Wales Press! Although I haven't had the time to read any of these titles yet, they definitely look interesting.

Footsteps of Liberty and Revolt: Essays on Wales and the French Revolution by Mary-Ann Constantine and Dafydd Johnston [June 15, 2013]

All of Europe was swept up in the events of the French Revolution and the radical restructuring of society that occurred in its aftermath. This collection of essays by leading academics explores how Welsh clerics, diplomats, singers, poets, journalists, and soldiers—many of whom traveled to Paris to witness the conflict firsthand—responded to the Revolution.

Edward Pugh of Ruthin 1763-1813: "A Native Artist" by John Barrell [May 15, 2013]

Edward Pugh of Ruthin 1763–1813 is the first book to consider the work of this nearly forgotten Welsh artist and writer in detail, linking the history of art in Wales with the social history of the country. John Barrell shows how Pugh’s pictures and writings portray rural life and social change in Wales during his lifetime, from the effects of the war with France on industry and poverty, to the need to develop and modernize the Welsh economy, to the power of the landowners. Almost all of the pictures and accounts we have today of late eighteenth and early nineteenth century North Wales were made by English artists and writers, and none of these, as Barrell demonstrates, can tell us about life in North Wales with the same depth and authenticity as does Pugh.

English-Language Poetry from Wales, 1789-1806 by Elizabeth Edwards [April 15, 2013]

This anthology presents a selection of poetry from Wales written in English in the years following the French Revolution of 1789. Arranged chronologically, it brings together a wide selection of little-known texts, some of which are published here for the first time. A comprehensive introduction sets the poems in their cultural and historical contexts, while detailed endnotes give concise biographies of the writers—where known—and explain specific references within the texts.

The Fantastic and European Gothic: History, Literature and the French Revolution by Matthew Gibson [April 15, 2013]

This fascinating study examines the rise of fantastic and frénétique literature in Europe during the nineteenth century, introducing readers to lesser-known writers like Paul Féval and Charles Nodier, whose vampires, ghouls, and doppelgängers were every bit as convincing as those of the more famous Bram Stoker and Ann Radcliffe, but whose political motivations were far more serious. Matthew Gibson demonstrates how these writers used the conventions of the Gothic to attack both the French Revolution and the rise of materialism and positivism during the Enlightenment. At the same time, Gibson challenges current understandings of the fantastic and the literature of terror as promulgated by critics like Tzvetan Todorov, David Punter, and Fred Botting.

Welsh Poetry of the French Revolution, 1789-1805 by Cathryn A. Charnell-White [February 15, 2013]

This anthology presents a selection of poems written by Welsh writers living in Wales and London in response to the French Revolution. Edited and translated from Welsh into English for the first time, these poems artfully capture this period of unprecedented change and upheaval, challenging what it meant to be Welsh, British, and patriotic amid shifting views on religious affiliation. Accompanying the English poems are the Welsh originals as well as explanatory notes and an introductory essay that provide context.

Travels in Revolutionary France and A Journey Across America by George Cadogan Morgan and Richard Price Morgan [January 15, 2013]

In July 1789, Welsh-born George Cadogan Morgan, the nephew of the celebrated radical dissenter Richard Price, found himself in France at the outbreak of the French Revolution. In 1808, his family left Britain for America, where his son, Richard Price Morgan, traveled extensively, made a descent of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers by raft, and helped build some of the early American railroads. The adventures of both men are related here via letters George sent home to his family from France and through the autobiography written by his son in America.

Welsh Responses to the French Revolution: Press and Public Discourse, 1789-1802 by Marion Loffler [July 15, 2012]
The French Revolution inflamed public opinion in Wales just as it did throughout the world. Welsh Responses to the French Revolution delves into the mass of periodical and serial literature published in Wales between 1789 and 1802 to reveal the range of radical, loyalist, and patriotic Welsh responses to the Revolution and the Revolutionary Wars. This anthology presents an English-language selection of poetry and prose published in the annual Welsh almanacs, the English provincial newspapers published close to Wales’s border, and the three radical Welsh periodicals of the mid-1790s, all alongside the original Welsh texts. An insightful introduction gives much-needed context to the selections by sketching out the printing culture of Wales, analyzing its public discourse, and interpreting the Welsh voices in their British political context.

Welsh Ballads of the French Revolution: 1793-1815 by Ffion Mair Jones [April 15, 2012]

Welsh Ballads of the French Revolution is a collection of ballads composed in reaction to the momentous events of the French Revolution and the two decades of war that followed. Ballad writers first responded in 1793, when the French monarchs were executed and France declared war upon Britain, but as the decade proceeded, sang in thanks for the victory of British forces and to the extensive mobilization of militia and volunteer forces. This volume, complete with parallel English translations of the original Welsh texts and copious contextualizing notes, introduces readers to this telling corpus for the first time and to a host of little-known authors.