"A charming, often funny series of remembrances."– Kirkus Reviews
A collection of autobiographical stories that charts a man’s meandering search for new experiences and ideas.
Author Kaufman is a committed purveyor of ideas, apparently having inherited from his Polish grandfather an insatiable inventiveness. That love of ideas is both born out of and expressed through a peripatetic wandering: the author traversed the globe, visiting Tel Aviv, New York, Italy, Iran, Germany, Ecuador. The book often reads like a travelogue, providing astute commentary on this or that destination. In one memorable analysis, Kaufman notes that the appeal of New Orleans’ French Quarter stems from its unique fusion of revelry and danger. The prose is fairly straightforward, so the narrative hinges on a life very interestingly lived. Kaufman’s life does not disappoint; the book brims with lines like this: “Growing up in the forties in the then Palestine, on the fringes of the Middle East and North African battles in World War II, was exciting if you were a kid.” The tales occur in patchwork fashion, eschewing a full, linear account of the author’s life, but the upside is each chapter can stand alone. Much of the writing is lighthearted and even comical—one story is written from the perspective of a dog—but it still tackles more serious topics like poverty and the pursuit of artistic fulfillment. In one entry, Kaufman’s family repeatedly pawned and rescued a set of silver candlesticks in response to financial distress. Though enamored of their beauty, he came to resent them for what they ultimately symbolized—his family’s precarious circumstances. In another, he won the admiration of a general in Veracruz for recommending that he supply a reception with portable toilets. Later in the collection, he tenderly describes his newborn granddaughter as that “beautiful, sweet, delicately perfect little thing.” The author of several books, Kaufman (The Precipice Option, 2013) is adept at recounting the universality of the idiosyncratic elements of his life; each vignette expresses a general truth about human nature. For example, his obsessive traveling, and the book as a whole, evokes the restless search for meaning that, to some extent, motivates us all.
A charming, often funny series of remembrances.
A writer offers a personal perspective on aging.
In relating the stages of life to the quarters of a business year, Kaufman (On the Road to Halicz, 2016, etc.) appropriately labels his own situation the “fourth quarter,” a time that “is full, rich and a regrouping exercise.” With a certain amount of wistfulness combined with wry humor, the 90-year-old author serves a poignant, wide-ranging, first-person narrative that addresses the physical, emotional, and mental aspects of aging. He also discusses and reacts to some of the subjects that can be both fascinating and perplexing to old and young alike, including artificial intelligence, globalization, and medical technology. Kaufman’s informal style is engaging, especially when he reflects on the realities of aging. He observes, for example, that he is always surprised by “everybody trying not to accept this rusted mechanism called age.” His descriptions can be downright funny when he considers “the little whammies” that happen to the elderly, such as having “a brigade catering to my health….Practically every little piece of me has a specialist.” Behind the humor is insight into the harshness of longevity. He notes, for instance, that “it is puzzling to see the tremendously accumulated” and invaluable “knowledge of the aged being disregarded and squandered.” But later, the author exudes optimism: “Age has its sunny spots too. Lots of them. One of them is to talk to toddlers, children and young people.” These somewhat contradictory pearls of wisdom are representative of a time of life that can be simultaneously hopeful and hopeless, which Kaufman fully acknowledges. While his astute observations make for intellectually stimulating content, this long essay is for the most part a broad conversation that abruptly moves from one subject to another in an almost stream-of-consciousness fashion. The writing is a bit sloppy at times, but it doesn’t mar the author’s sincerity. Kaufman speaks directly to others who are living in the “Fourth Quarter,” and it is hard not to embrace his exhortation to “live it up in any shape and manner.…Go out and start some fires. It is invigorating.”
A spirited, perceptive, and honest look at longevity.