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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A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor...

INTO THE WILD

The excruciating story of a young man on a quest for knowledge and experience, a search that eventually cooked his goose, told with the flair of a seasoned investigative reporter by Outside magazine contributing editor Krakauer (Eiger Dreams, 1990). 

Chris McCandless loved the road, the unadorned life, the Tolstoyan call to asceticism. After graduating college, he took off on another of his long destinationless journeys, this time cutting all contact with his family and changing his name to Alex Supertramp. He was a gent of strong opinions, and he shared them with those he met: "You must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life''; "be nomadic.'' Ultimately, in 1992, his terms got him into mortal trouble when he ran up against something—the Alaskan wild—that didn't give a hoot about Supertramp's worldview; his decomposed corpse was found 16 weeks after he entered the bush. Many people felt McCandless was just a hubris-laden jerk with a death wish (he had discarded his map before going into the wild and brought no food but a bag of rice). Krakauer thought not. Admitting an interest that bordered on obsession, he dug deep into McCandless's life. He found a willful, reckless, moody boyhood; an ugly little secret that sundered the relationship between father and son; a moral absolutism that agitated the young man's soul and drove him to extremes; but he was no more a nutcase than other pilgrims. Writing in supple, electric prose, Krakauer tries to make sense of McCandless (while scrupulously avoiding off-the-rack psychoanalysis): his risky behavior and the rites associated with it, his asceticism, his love of wide open spaces, the flights of his soul.

A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor will it to readers of Krakauer's narrative. (4 maps) (First printing of 35,000; author tour)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-42850-X

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Villard

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1995

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Skloot's meticulous, riveting account strikes a humanistic balance between sociological history, venerable portraiture and...

THE IMMORTAL LIFE OF HENRIETTA LACKS

A dense, absorbing investigation into the medical community's exploitation of a dying woman and her family's struggle to salvage truth and dignity decades later.

In a well-paced, vibrant narrative, Popular Science contributor and Culture Dish blogger Skloot (Creative Writing/Univ. of Memphis) demonstrates that for every human cell put under a microscope, a complex life story is inexorably attached, to which doctors, researchers and laboratories have often been woefully insensitive and unaccountable. In 1951, Henrietta Lacks, an African-American mother of five, was diagnosed with what proved to be a fatal form of cervical cancer. At Johns Hopkins, the doctors harvested cells from her cervix without her permission and distributed them to labs around the globe, where they were multiplied and used for a diverse array of treatments. Known as HeLa cells, they became one of the world's most ubiquitous sources for medical research of everything from hormones, steroids and vitamins to gene mapping, in vitro fertilization, even the polio vaccine—all without the knowledge, must less consent, of the Lacks family. Skloot spent a decade interviewing every relative of Lacks she could find, excavating difficult memories and long-simmering outrage that had lay dormant since their loved one's sorrowful demise. Equal parts intimate biography and brutal clinical reportage, Skloot's graceful narrative adeptly navigates the wrenching Lack family recollections and the sobering, overarching realities of poverty and pre–civil-rights racism. The author's style is matched by a methodical scientific rigor and manifest expertise in the field.

Skloot's meticulous, riveting account strikes a humanistic balance between sociological history, venerable portraiture and Petri dish politics.

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-4000-5217-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2010

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