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Painstakingly detailed at times, this quiet memoir is saved by Miller's deftly placed literary references, which offer an...

A literature professor searches for her roots after her father's death, uncovering an intricate portrait of a Russian-Jewish immigrant family.

Miller (English/Graduate Center, CUNY; But Enough About Me: Why We Read Other People’s Lives, 2002, etc.) was so distanced from her father's side of the family that, when she divorced, she adopted her mother's maiden name, rather than returning to Kipnis, her original surname. Though her parents were married and her father was always a consistent figure in her life, the author grew up close with her maternal relatives and almost entirely estranged from the Kipnis clan. Of particular curiosity were the uncle and first cousin that she'd never met. After her father died, Miller discovered a stash of old photographs and letters that piqued her curiosity: Who were the Kipnises, and why were they not a part of her life? To find out, she began deciphering clues, translating letters, tracking down army records, identifying long-dead figures in old photographs, connecting in person with her aging cousin and his family and eventually traveling back to Eastern Europe. What emerges is a story that will seem familiar to many Jewish families scattered across the diaspora: two sons carrying the pressures of their immigrant parents and responding differently to their freedom and opportunities. As with most, there are several skeletons in the Kipnis closet—suicide, divorce in a time when it was rare, womanizing and even some potential ties to the mob. But more than any particular scandal, Miller was shocked by the degree to which she became entrenched in her family's story, with each answered question not satiating but rather fueling her curiosity. Ever the professor, Miller turns to fiction to understand her own narrative, channeling E.L. Doctorow, Marilynne Robinson, Aleksandar Hemon and many others to help articulate her past.

Painstakingly detailed at times, this quiet memoir is saved by Miller's deftly placed literary references, which offer an unusual, intellectual perspective on an often-told story.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-8032-3001-9

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Univ. of Nebraska

Review Posted Online: June 28, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2011

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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Well-told and admonitory.

Young-rags-to-mature-riches memoir by broker and motivational speaker Gardner.

Born and raised in the Milwaukee ghetto, the author pulled himself up from considerable disadvantage. He was fatherless, and his adored mother wasn’t always around; once, as a child, he spied her at a family funeral accompanied by a prison guard. When beautiful, evanescent Moms was there, Chris also had to deal with Freddie “I ain’t your goddamn daddy!” Triplett, one of the meanest stepfathers in recent literature. Chris did “the dozens” with the homies, boosted a bit and in the course of youthful adventure was raped. His heroes were Miles Davis, James Brown and Muhammad Ali. Meanwhile, at the behest of Moms, he developed a fondness for reading. He joined the Navy and became a medic (preparing badass Marines for proctology), and a proficient lab technician. Moving up in San Francisco, married and then divorced, he sold medical supplies. He was recruited as a trainee at Dean Witter just around the time he became a homeless single father. All his belongings in a shopping cart, Gardner sometimes slept with his young son at the office (apparently undiscovered by the night cleaning crew). The two also frequently bedded down in a public restroom. After Gardner’s talents were finally appreciated by the firm of Bear Stearns, his American Dream became real. He got the cool duds, hot car and fine ladies so coveted from afar back in the day. He even had a meeting with Nelson Mandela. Through it all, he remained a prideful parent. His own no-daddy blues are gone now.

Well-told and admonitory.

Pub Date: June 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-06-074486-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2006

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