Four Souls by Louise Erdrich
A plot to reclaim the native land
A review by Ron Charles
For better or for worse, most white people have two popular avenues of contact with native Americans: casino gambling or Louise Erdrich. My money's on Erdrich, with whom the odds of winning something of real value are essentially guaranteed.
The daughter of a Chippewa mother and a German-American father, this Minnesota author won critical and popular success with her first novel, Love Medicine, in 1984. Since then, through a steady accumulation of beautiful, often funny books set around an Ojibwe reservation, she's created the most compelling literary landscape since Faulkner's...
Tocqueville Between Two Worlds: The Making of a Political and Theoretical Life by Sheldon S. Wolin
Both Sides Now
A review by Stephen Holmes
For many Americans, Alexis de Tocqueville was a source of insight and reassurance throughout the Cold War. Not only did he caution prophetically against the perils of an over-mighty central state, but he also divined the first omens, within democratic society itself, of morally debilitating welfare-state paternalism. But that was then, this is now. Fear and loathing of "the state" is no longer in the air. If American democracy is threatened at all, it is less by government omniscience and an immoderate concern for the welfare of the disadvantaged than by the ineptitude and the...
The White King by György Dragomán
Cruel and Unusual Punishment
A review by Ron Charles
Literature about children living under repressive regimes is as upsetting as it is invaluable. One's appreciation for each new book is mingled with horror at what a young person endured to produce it. How many of us finally understood the ferocity of Sierra Leone's civil war by reading about Ishmael Beah's unbearable ordeal in A Long Way Gone? Last year, Libyan writer Hisham Matar provided a chilling perspective on what it means for a child to live in a state of political terror. In the Country of Men, his autobiographical novel about a 9-year-old boy, describes a family struggling under the...
The Lost Children: Reconstructing Europe's Families After World War II by Tara Zahra
The Smallest Victims
A review by Mark Mazower
No sooner had I finished this fascinating book than I remembered the shattering scene in Irene Nemirovsky's Suite Francaise when the teenage orphans whom a fatherly priest has been shepherding to the safety of a secluded chateau suddenly turn on him like a pack of wolves and stone him to death. It is an unforgettable moment that seems to sum up all the madness of France's panic in the summer of 1940. But in its almost Jacobin ghoulishness, the event is also mysteriously implausible.
Now, after reading The Lost Children, it seems more decipherable. Throughout the war and after it, Europeans ...
The Cleft by Doris May Lessing
A review by Julie Phillips
Doris Lessing begins The Cleft with an epigraph from the poet Robert Graves: "Man does, woman is." This is the kind of oracular essentialism that has taken a beating in the past 40 years, yet Lessing appears to agree with it. Men, she writes in a brief foreword, "lack the solidity of women, who seem to have been endowed with a natural harmony with the ways of the world....Men in comparison are unstable, and erratic. Is Nature trying something out?"
One of Lessing's many talents is describing women at odds with the ways of the world; but in her new novel, she herself is trying something out....
Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray
A review by Edwin Percy Whipple
[Ed. Note. This review first ran in the Atlantic Monthly, May 1865.]
In the novels of Thackeray, essay is so much mixed up with narrative, and comment with characterization, that they can hardly be thoroughly appreciated in poor editions. The temptation to skip is almost irresistible, when wisdom can be purchased only at the expense of eyesight. We are therefore glad to welcome the commencement of a new edition of his writings, over whose pages the reader can linger at his pleasure, and quietly enjoy the subtleties of humor and observation which in previous perusals he overlooked. The...