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Year Zero is a landmark reckoning with the greatdrama that ensued after war came to an end in 1945. One world had ended and anew, uncertain one was beginning. Regime change had come across Asia and all of continental Europe. It was the greatest global powervacuum in history, and out of the often vicious power struggles thatensued emerged the modern world as we know it.
In human terms, the scale of transformation is almostimpossible to imagine. Great cities around the world lay in ruins, theirpopulations decimated, displaced, starving. Harsh revenge was meted out on awide scale, and the ground was laid for much darkness to come. At the sametime, in the wake of unspeakable loss, the euphoria of the liberated wasextraordinary, the revelry unprecedented. The postwar years gave rise to the Europeanwelfare state, the United Nations, American democracy, Japanese pacifism, andthe European Union. Society-wide reeducation was imposed on the vanquished on ascale that had no historical precedent. Much that was done was ill-advised, butin hindsight these efforts were relatively enlightened, humane, and effective.
A poignant grace note throughout his history is Buruma’s ownfather’s story. Seized by the Nazis during the occupation of Holland, he spentmuch of the war in Berlin as a slave laborer and by war’s end was literallyhiding in the rubble of a flattened city, having barely managed to survivestarvation rations, Allied bombing, and Soviet shock troops when the end came.His journey home and attempted reentry into “normalcy” stand in many ways forhis generation’s experience.
A work of enormous range and stirring human drama,conjuring both the Asian and European theaters with equal fluency, YearZero is a book that Ian Buruma is perhaps uniquely positioned to write.
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