PRISONERS OF HISTORY | Kirkus Reviews


The stories behind national monuments around the world, but definitely not a travel book.

Lowe divides his 25 chapters into five categories: heroes, martyrs, villains, destruction, and rebirth. He emphasizes how many show that “every society deceives itself that its values are eternal.” However, he continues, “when the world changes, our monuments—and the values that they represent—remain frozen in time.” Most readers will recognize the Arlington, Virginia, memorial of Marines raising the American flag at Iwo Jima, a replica of the famous photograph. They may not recognize The Motherland Calls! a colossal female figure representing Mother Russia, sword raised, beckoning her children to fight. Nearly twice as tall as the Statue of Liberty and absurdly grandiose anywhere else, it’s appropriate to celebrate the titanic 1942 Battle of Stalingrad. Lowe’s “villain” examples may rightly raise some hackles. Germany and Japan committed unspeakable atrocities, but only postwar Germany handled the guilt properly by apologizing continually and never making excuses. When pressed, Japan’s leaders express regret, but, unlike the case with Germany, many of her neighbors do not forgive her. Readers may fume at Lowe’s account of the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, a memorial to war dead, including its convicted war criminals, and even to the Kenpeitai, the brutal Japanese Gestapo. Among monuments to destruction is the village of Oradour-sur-Glane in France, left vacant after the Nazis murdered its inhabitants. Japanese atomic bomb memorials vividly portray the horrors but treat the bombings as natural disasters similar to earthquakes, rarely mentioning more than abstract concepts such as war and suffering. Few monuments escape Lowe’s critical eye. For example, the mural adorning the U.N. Security Council Chamber in New York is “hopelessly dated” and even “cartoonish.” Other monuments of note include Auschwitz, Mussolini’s Tomb, and the Liberation Route Europe.

Insightful accounts of memorials where there is usually more than meets the eye.

Pub Date: today

ISBN: 978-1-250-23502-2

Page Count: 368

Publisher: St. Martin’s

Review Posted Online: Sept. 26, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2020





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