Wednesday, March 23, 2005

From concentration camps to cotton

Untold histories of Russia and California revealed at Iconoclast this week

From concentration camps to cotton

"Gulag: A History" By Anne Applebaum. Doubleday. $35. 677 pp.

This week sees two significant literary events take place at Iconoclast Books in Ketchum. Tonight, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Anne Applebaum will participate in a panel discussion of her book "Gulag: A History." Also involved will be Rabbi Martin Levy and Dora Levin. Thursday night journalist Mark Araz will sign copies of his sweeping history of central California, "The King of California."

"Gulag" is a controversial account of the origins and development of the Soviet concentration camps, from Lenin to Gorbachev. Based on archives, interviews, new research and recently published memoirs, the book explains the role that the camps played in the Soviet political and economic system. It also describes daily life in the camps: how people lived, worked, ate, slept, fought, died and survived.

The work won its author, Anne Applebaum, the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for non-Fiction. It has appeared or is due to appear in more than two dozen translations, including all major European languages.

Michael McFaul wrote in The New York Times, "Her book is tragic testimony to how evil ideologically inspired dictatorships can be. In the Soviet camps, as Ms. Applebaum documents in a straightforward, just-the-facts way, people were tortured and died in the most inhumane of ways—packed in boxcars, lying in excrement, raped, starved, frostbitten or standing naked, hands and feet tied, exposed to swarms of mosquitoes. These are horrors of a scale and scope that few in Russia or the West can imagine."

Applebaum, who was was born in Washington, D.C., in 1964, is a columnist for The Washington Post. She began working as a journalist in 1988, when she moved to Poland to become the Warsaw correspondent for The Economist. She eventually covered the collapse of communism across Central and Eastern Europe, writing for a wide range of newspapers and magazines. In 1992 she won the Charles Douglas-Home Memorial Trust award for journalism in the ex-Soviet Union. Her previous work, "Between East and West" won an Adolph Bentinck prize for European non-fiction in 1996. Her husband, Radek Sikorski, is a Polish politician and writer.

Mark Arax's "The King of California" is a rich, colorful history of California. The narrative centers on the untold story of America's biggest farmer, J.G. Boswell, who controls more than $1 billion worth of water rights and real estate in the heart of the state.

Over the past 50 years, Boswell has built a secret empire while thumbing his nose at nature, politicians, labor unions and every journalist who ever tried to lift the veil on the ultimate "factory in the fields."

Now 80 years old, with an almost pathological bent toward privacy, Boswell has spent the past few years confiding one of the great stories of the American West to Mark Arax and Rick Wartzman.

"The King of California" is the previously untold account of how a Georgia slave-owning family migrated to California in the early 1920s, drained one of America 's biggest lakes in an act of incredible hubris and carved out the richest cotton empire in the world.

Much more than a business story, this is a sweeping social history that details the saga of cotton growers who were chased from the South by the boll weevil and brought their black farmhands to California. It is a gripping read with cameos by a cast of famous characters, from Cecil B. DeMille to Cesar Chavez.

Mark Arax is an award-winning reporter for the Los Angeles Times, and Rick Wartzman is the paper's business editor. Arax is the author of the critically acclaimed "In My Father's Name," about his search to find his father's killers. He lives in Fresno.

Literary events

Wednesday, March 23, a panel discussion with Pulitzer Prize-winning author of "Gulag" Anne Applebaum will be held. Panelists include Radek Sikorsky, Rabbi Martin Levy and Dora Levin.

Thursday, March 24, author and LA Times reporter Mark Arax reads from and signs copies of "The King of California: J.G. Boswell and the Making of a Secret American Empire"

Both events will be held between 7 and 9 p.m. at Iconoclast Books in Ketchum.

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