This meandering but mesmerizing memoir details the political and social turmoil of World War II through the eyes of an intrepid courier for the headquarters of the Italian resistance movement.
De Hoog’s journey begins and ends at Mauthausen, the site of a concentration camp in Nazi-occupied Austria. It was to Mauthausen he was taken on January 8, 1945, “four murderous months before the end of WWII,” in a cattle car barreling through the snow-dressed peaks. Sent there after he and other top resistance leaders were arrested by the Gestapo, he escapes by leaping from the train and finding his way back to Bolzano. He becomes involved in the Italian resistance in 1944, participating in life-or-death missions and raids. De Hoog’s memoir recounts anecdote after anecdote of wartime chaos: Among many other things, he comments on the “abiding personal hatred” the Nazi SS guards displayed for their prisoners, the “Calvary path” of stone steps the prisoners were forced to climb at Mauthausen and the censored correspondence from his sister Caroline about the miseries of German occupation in Amsterdam. De Hoog, who used the code name Martino in honor of his brother, a soldier who perished in the Dutch army, illustrates not only the frights of upheaval, but its small miracles and unexpected blessings. He writes, for instance, of a conservative resistance leader staging a raid to free a member of a more liberal sect. As the volume concludes, it’s revealed that a 1983 trip to Mauthausen prompted the author’s recollection of terror. While large-scale accounts of WWII will provide a more comprehensive overview of its conflicts, De Hoog’s firsthand version teems with humanity not often found in such surveys. It’s written with the same measures of ethical commitment and intelligence that seem to have helped him outpace his German persecutors.
A lush, unsparing narrative that honors history and emotion.
Waldron’s account of life as a gay dad in Arizona.
The author’s engaging debut memoir opens with a protest rally against illegal immigrants in Phoenix. Seeing a young Hispanic boy on his father’s shoulders, Waldron reflects on his journey as a single, gay parent. When he fell in love with the charming smile of a 3-year-old boy, he had little understanding of the child’s intense anger simmering below the surface. After helplessly witnessing one memorable tantrum, Waldron sought a series of nannies to care for his child and teach him Spanish, as well as give himself some much-needed breathing room in his suddenly hectic life. Beginning with fun-loving Paulina, several Mexican women not only cared for his son (and later second child), but also showed Waldron how to appreciate the smaller, day-to-day triumphs of parenting. The women’s undocumented status and their ties to family in Mexico meant that their connections to his young family, while strong, were sometimes short-lived. While the women are idealized in their portrayals and treated like family (a far cry from The Help), the narrator is forthright about his own shortcomings and fears. Parents, especially single parents or those of adopted children, will relate to his worried comparisons to wealthier parents, his fears that his son might be taken away, his frantic juggling of work responsibilities and his musings about the lasting effects of his son’s difficult pre-adoption years. Early on, he confronts his own prejudices about the women he comes to depend upon who live in modest, sometimes sketchy, neighborhoods. He’s also quick to defend them from the unfounded accusations of his neighbors or his father’s concerns about strangers raising his grandchildren. A natural storyteller, Waldron offers a universal tale. He occasionally touches on issues specific to being a gay parent, including being advised to lie about his orientation or being offered harder-to-place children. More personal than political, this memoir’s conversational style, with its short chapters, lively bits of dialogue, candid observations and steady action, makes for enjoyable reading.
A timely, compelling story that challenges the traditional definition of family.
Malloy presents a collection of 39 funny, charming and poignant snapshots of her life as the mother of two boys.
As is true of most mothers, Malloy notes that she used to have “an individual personality” with hobbies, interests and a career. Then the baby arrived, and the new mom discovered this arrival marked the beginning of a new series of identities: Baby’s Mom, Schoolhouse Mom, Frazzled Mom, Invisible Mom. With gentle humor and wit, the author recounts various moments of motherhood that most mothers will recognize from their own lives. The stories are not reflections on the big occasions of celebration or sadness or drama. These are the short, ordinary, everyday moments often taken for granted, but not here, where they’re examined and savored. Her approach serves as a good reminder that motherhood doesn’t require perfection; that it’s the everyday chaos that makes motherhood so exasperating and yet so worthwhile. This is what it is to be a “Real Mother.” Malloy makes no apology for her conclusions: that the parenting magazines might best be suited for lining the hamster cage; that fathers parent differently; that math will need to be learned all over again; and that the “Land of Perfect Parenthood” is as fictional as never-never land. Rather, Malloy celebrates what “no book could ever teach: common sense” mixed with a little levity. Any mother who has ever herded toddlers, coped with a child’s amazing array of questions and bodily fluids, or tried to appear calm while their insides were raging with worry over a teenager, will find solace, camaraderie and more than a few laughs.
A quick, lighthearted romp through the joys of motherhood as told by a real, honest and very funny mom.
Cronyism and corruption stifle the cable TV industry in this hard-hitting memoir.
In the late ’70s, when the city of Los Angeles put up for bid the franchise to build a cable TV system for South-Central LA, the author and his brother partnered with an experienced cable company, lined up financing and assembled what they thought would be a winning proposal. Unfortunately, a good business plan turned out to be next to worthless in the tar pit of LA municipal politics. After a series of bullying meetings spiked with bribe offers, an aide to a powerful city councilman and an influence peddler connected to the mayor’s office demanded that they and their associates be given majority control of the prospective franchise. The Galloways, two local African-American businessmen, refused—and found themselves subject to an arbitrary, unfair evaluation process by city agencies that effectively pulled the brothers out of the running. (The franchise was finally awarded to a real estate company that had also, the author contends, tried to muscle in on the Galloways’ project.) Galloway follows the cable-franchise battle as it evolves into a lawsuit that revolved around significant issues of free speech rights and antitrust law, eventually leading to a landmark Supreme Court decision. Part true-life noir replete with threatening power brokers and sleazy backroom deal-making, part populist courtroom drama with pointed allegations of judicial bias, Galloway’s memoir is an absorbing insider’s take on the sort of cable TV franchise controversy that has erupted in many cities. His analysis of knotty business and bureaucratic and legal wrangling is both detailed and lucid, and he ties it to a larger critique of black leaders—including ugly portraits of former LA mayor Tom Bradley, celebrity lawyer Johnnie Cochrane and congresswoman Maxine Waters—whom he feels have betrayed their inner-city constituents. Galloway’s account is palpably bitter and one-sided, but it shines a powerful light on high-level malfeasance.
DeSilver’s memoir recounts the adolescent and young-adult experiences that shaped his writing and artistic endeavors as an acclaimed poet.
Growing up in the upper-middle-class–Connecticut suburbs during the 1970s and ’80s, DeSilver used alcohol at an early age to dull the emotional aches and pains he was too young to process. A sensitive observer even as a young child, he first experienced deep anxiety and loneliness after his parents hired an austere, often violent German governess to care for him and his two sisters. His fascinating parents (especially his feisty mother with her hilarious one-liners and anecdotes) struggled with addiction, too, although they are portrayed as loving yet detached from their children’s emotional needs. DeSilver leaves for college and, pursuing photography and art, slowly begins dealing with his demons. After a series of damaging meltdowns and relationships, he finds a path to sobriety and self-awareness through therapy, meditation and nature, which help him transcend his battle with alcoholism. DeSilver details this pursuit of inner peace via his talent for painting rich imagery with words, while his keen ability to gracefully and openly express his vulnerability brightens and enriches the memoir. He writes honestly of the times in his life when he produced tiresome art amid a plethora of self-centered decisions. With eloquent metaphors, lyrical prose and subtle humor, DeSilver engagingly expresses his determination to examine his life’s purpose. Told clearly but not chronologically, his path to sobriety leads to a life about much more than addiction.
A beautifully written memoir of awakening and self-acceptance.
Birch’s candid new memoir recalls her punishing adolescent boyhood and the difficult pursuit of self-realization.
Birch never felt right in her body. She remembers a detailed, harrowing dream of retreating into the forest to commit suicide. Readers are catapulted to Birch’s boyhood as Jacob Mathewson, a quiet, awkward boy born with ambiguous genitalia. Tormented by his peers at school and by his mother at home because of his “birth defect,” Jacob explores his “female side” by dressing in girls’ clothing. College was “the time when I first realized how much Jessie could help me. I would come home from school and lock myself in my room, dress as a girl, put [makeup] on, and magically my homework assignments became much easier to complete.” And so Jacob sets out as Jessica on a path to discover where the feminine tendencies lead. Over the course of her journey, Birch continually seeks approval from others. She has a bad habit of imprudent attempts at friendship. Most troublingly, she develops an obsession with her therapist, sending her anonymous, unwanted gifts and unnerving letters. This fixation and her inability or unwillingness to see its inappropriateness has a climactic, disturbing outcome. Captivated yet confounded by her own thought patterns—she constantly worries that she’s going insane—Birch goes on to describe her struggle later in life, as she comes of age and contends with her own sexual and emotional immaturity. She interchangeably uses the terms “intersex,” “transsexual” and “transgender,” which might irk some contemporary LGBT scholars and activists, but Birch’s sincerity and enthusiasm are undeniable. Framed as a plea for absolution from family, friends and God, this memoir reads as an extended explanation and apology for the hurtful, misguided decisions she’s made over the course of her transition. “If through my actions, I’ve hurt anyone intentionally or unintentionally,” she says, “may I be forgiven?”
An honest, heartfelt memoir about coming out and transitioning.
Turgenev meets Mark Twain in these lyrical, acutely observed recollections wherein the author narrates his Carolina past, unearthing mountains of memories and ties that bind.
Snyder is a crack observer, and this debut memoir is at once a reverie of rural life, an ode to men’s crafts and boyhood’s treasures, and a cool refraction of the full-blooded Carolinians who hunted, fished and farmed their patch under the final sunset of the Old South. Snyder spent his early years in the cabin his father built on Cedar Mountain, N.C., where quail roamed and trout peppered the streams. In 1939, his father built a resort inn that bustled for one glorious summer then fell to an arsonist’s match. John and a brother were soon sent to live with two maiden aunts in Greenville, S.C., for school but learned more about needlepoint, roosters and bigotry. When the family purchased a sharecropper farm in Walhalla, S.C., in 1943, adventures in hoeing and animals began in earnest. John’s father, Ted, was a man for all seasons, adept with a poem as well as a gun and a saw, and the narrative sparkles with his vernacular—the winsomely meaningless “consnoggerating” is a term only a 1940s father could invent. Young John tried to live up to his father’s polymathic example with tools and inventions of his own, while simultaneously adoring a succession of lovely teachers and studying his world with a fine boy’s eye. The result is this book of miniatures, crafted with care and delivered with candor and heart. Each set piece—a burgling collie, a woman who lost her face to the wind, a most unfortunately ill-timed bowel movement—lends gravitas to the author’s spectacle of family and humanity below the Mason-Dixon Line. Snyder is hardly the first Southerner to have wondered aloud: Who are my people? But his answer is rich and original. Or as his father might have said—big as the moon and deft as a cat.
A finely detailed tableau of the lost Carolinas and a book for the boy in all of us.
Debut author Colleary chronicles 40 weeks of pregnancy in this irreverent account.
Sometimes sweet, sometimes sassy, screenwriter and blogger Colleary tells all with witty sarcasm and edgy, laugh-out-loud humor. She begins with conception and the results of a home pregnancy test before careening through laments of sleepless nights, mood swings, weight gain and nausea with snappy but snide remarks most pregnant women think but few express. Colleary’s book is a fun, literary romp for any woman who has experienced “The First Trimester Through Hell” and lived to read the tale. The former homecoming queen and INXS backup dancer, now the pregnant mommy of one, alternates between admitted snobbery (“I saw stay-at-home moms as the kind of women who sat in the fifth pew of fill-in-the-blank church, smiling with bland acquiescence, who thought Danielle Steele novels were literature”) and a self-deprecating appraisal of her blossoming physique (“Some days even my earlobes feel fat”). Each chapter notes the gestation time in weeks and days, recounted in diary style, and draws readers into one delicious admission after another. Colleary professes a jealousy for the skinny, overachieving Gwyneth Paltrow and a tendency toward fantasies involving George Clooney. She regales with funny tales of an overbearing lactation nurse screeching about the importance of colostrum and a would-be caregiver whose secret life, the author fears, will eventually be revealed on a daytime talk show. Colleary’s humor and warmth flow seamlessly from conception to birth in this well-written, snappy read.
A hysterical account of pregnancy that will resonate with readers who’ve been through it before.
Labeled with Multiple Personality and Dissociative Identity disorders, author Bates writes about the 18 personalities living in her head.
Bates collectively refers to her personalities as “The Long Black Train.” The train includes: Maverick, alternating between 1 and 5 years old, who is tasked with keeping “Nora” alive; Baby, Kitty, The Little Ones, Lily, Awww, Rant, Fishy and Worm all have their specific jobs; and, it’s up to Time Keeper to keep Maverick informed and the train on the rails. Bates writes her story with clear intent and purpose. Her prose is not meant to enhance, but simply to reveal the unadorned truth of her ongoing struggle with mental illness. Bates understands that it’s not easy for friends and loved ones to deal with her condition, that they invariably perpetuate the problem with their incessant query of whether she has taken her meds whenever the slightest shift in emotion is detected. In relaying her plight, Bates makes it clear that she isn’t going to accept her fate without a fight. However, it’s that acceptance that allows her to better deal with the issues at hand and enables her to appreciate each victory—such as keeping the voices at bay long enough to have a meaningful conversation with a stranger or completing important tasks. Even with no real linear direction, Bates’ conveyance of the chaos in her head creates its own random flow that falls into an agreeable rhythm of order. The author has put great effort into working on herself, trying to control Rant’s explosive anger and deal with Kat’s self-deprecation, The Little Ones’ deathly fears and Maverick’s lack of drive. Trying to reunite a mind that has fractured into 18 parts is not easy, and Bates rightfully savors her triumphs and accepts setbacks with grace. Showing strength and determination that is often found lacking in “normals,” Bates’ voice is clear and strong, and her message carries weight.
Part memoir, part journal, part plan-in-progress, Bates has no time for self-pity, preferring instead to celebrate all that she is grateful for.
Once the chief financial officer of the tech firm Broadcom, Ruehle faced potential sentencing of more than 350 years in prison after federal prosecutors in Southern California charged him with multiple felonies for alleged corporate malfeasance. Here, he tells his side of the story.
Corporate executives are hardly sympathetic figures these days. But for Ruehle, the negative spotlight and resultant court case against himamounted to a “politically motivated, media-driven backdating frenzy.” He gives a credible account of his multiyear ordeal, which ultimately ended in December 2009 when a judge declared Ruehle’s innocence and admonished the government for overzealousness. Along with providing realistic glimpses inside the corporate world (“Staff meetings—a new level of agony”), the book could serve as a useful primer for budding legal eagles in the practice of law versus the theory of law. Government lawyers strong-armed potential witnesses into lying for them by holding potential prosecutions and prison terms over their heads; potential defense witnesses were discouraged or “frozen” with similar tactics. “A criminal trial is very much like a war,” Ruehle writes, and he lucidly documents his own legal battles, as his high-priced defense team sifted through 6 million pages of evidence in order to “pry the truth” out of prosecution witnesses during cross-examinations “like an oral surgeon extracting a tooth.” Besides providing observations on good and bad lawyering, the book also offers a simple but useful lesson for these tech-dependent times: “Always be extra careful when writing e-mails.” Although Ruehle gives a clear, convincing account of courtroom tactics and strategies, he’s weak on the human aspects of the trial; most of the leading characters come across as colorless. Even a dab of physical description would have illuminated this chronicle a bit more. Also, the first chapter, which gives a brief history of Broadcom and an explanation of stock options, feels tacked on; it doesn’t cleanly segue into the rest of the book. Still, Ruehle offers an instructive, remarkably evenhanded account of “how overwhelming it could be to fight the federal government.”
An effective indictment of governmental abuse of power written by an unlikely but excellent source.
The authors (The Commonwealth of Massachusetts Vs. Lizzie A. Borden, 1994) return with a riveting history of the flourishing small town of Fall River, Mass., and its most infamous resident, Lizzie Borden.
It’s been more than eight decades since the death of Lizzie Borden, but interest in the gruesome ax murders that made her famous lives on. This book isn’t intended as a commentary on those murders of August 4, 1892, or speculation about her guilt or innocence; instead, it provides insight into Lizzie Borden, the woman, the city in which she spent most of her life and the society that would later judge her. According to documents, young Lizzie’s implication in her parents’ murders wasn’t based on evidence but merely suggestion and “village gossip.” Varying points of view on the family’s relations—especially between Lizzie and her stepmother—were recorded, but most townspeople distorted the Borden’s evidently normal familial disagreements into a sinister light, spurred on by the macabre events that transpired. The book, culled from exhaustive research by the curators of the Fall River Historical Society, offers an alternate perspective to the previously known particulars. The authors share unprecedented access to never-before-seen documents, memorabilia and other information. The result is an ambitious tome featuring a plethora of information and replete with beautiful photographs. Though the narrative and history are nonlinear, the telling flows seamlessly. The fateful events of August 4, 1892, are discussed early on, but references are peppered throughout, with additional perspective and data. Fall River itself is a compelling character: Its main claim to fame may be Lizzie Borden, but the town—one of the first to open a free library in the United States, in 1860—also persevered through two devastating fires, the Civil War, Lincoln’s assassination and multiple instances of embezzlement. Every page may not be dedicated to the Borden family, but the lush history of the town and its many residents somehow connect to the family and its notorious daughter.
The Guggenheim’s family story as a lesson in world history.
What once took considerable time and toil—finding out from whence you came—is now but a quick click away. The Internet has made amateur genealogists of us all. Meanwhile, unearthing the stories behind the branches in the family tree, well, that still requires an awful lot of heavy digging. Consider Griffiths’ (a Guggenheim descendent) work a testament, then, to her work ethic. To be fair, a lot of the heavy lifting had already been done. Margot Löhr’s discovery of the Guggenheim File itself and Jens Huckeriede’s documentary about what the Nazis did to the Guggenheim family were already known to the author. In fact, as Griffiths says, both parties had approached her about participating in their respective projects. Not wanting to dredge up the horrors of the Shoah, Griffiths (whose father had even anglicized their last name) declined the offers. Lucky for us, she’s since had a change of heart. The author’s meticulously researched, lovingly written account has deeply personalized all prior documents that bear her surname. Along with the Rothschilds, the Guggenheims were one of the most prominent Jewish families hit by Hitler. The original Die Akte Guggenheim goes into great detail about how the Nazis, in Griffiths’ translation, “confiscated my grandparents’ business, property, land, and how they tried to subjugate their lives.” And yet, as she points out in “An Abbreviated List of Eleven Generations of The Guggenheim Family,” the existence of Felix Mendelssohn, Claude Lévi-Strauss, and of course Solomon R. Guggenheim proves that fascism never could accomplish that final goal. Many books have been written on the post-World War II Jewish diaspora; here, Griffiths’ record reveals an audit of the atrocities within a greater narrative of triumph—and it is both uniquely intimate and overwhelmingly universal.
An inspirational, fascinating chronicle of a family’s will to survive.
Virag’s memoir paints a bleak portrait of a broken childhood, but her strength shines amid the rubble.
In the early 1940s, Virag and four of her siblings were forced into a big, black car and taken away from their home by the Children’s Aid Society. She was never told why; she was 4 years old. Though poverty-stricken, Virag had always felt love from her mother and an older sister, “Muggs,” who helped care for the younger children (Virag’s mother had 18 children total). Virag’s home life was hardly idyllic—her rowdy older brothers gave her canned molasses to quiet her when she cried from hunger—but it was far better than where she ended up. Plunged into foster care, the children were often abused and used for labor. Virag and her twin sister, Betty, performed grueling, dangerous work on a tobacco farm and were locked in an attic at night with no heat other than a stovepipe, which provided minimal warmth and became a comfort of sorts for the girls. Virag’s plainspoken style makes for a powerful read. At one point, the children are so hungry they eat sassafras leaves. When the girls slice open their bare toes while hoeing, Virag describes how they “simply rinsed off the blood and went back to hoeing.” Readers should prepare to be angered and moved to tears: One of the most heartbreaking scenes involves the rape of Betty when she is 7 years old. But there are better times and even much “whistling in the dark” humor, as the author does a beautiful job of capturing the voices of childhood. The book is a swift, well-written read and not merely an indictment of the foster-care system. There is compassion from some adults, such as a foster-care worker who helped Virag enroll in art classes during her high school years. Amazingly, Virag’s voice is not bitter, as she plumbs the depths of despair and rises above what no child should ever have to endure.
An inspirational story of survival and the loving bond between sisters.
Thornton’s debut collection of 44 true short stories lends a rare glimpse into coming-of-age in the rural American South.
Growing up on the Bend, a 30-family homestead on the North Carolina and Virginia border, Thornton spent most of his time lollygagging and making mischief. His stories are infused with such gleeful spirit that it’s easy to see why Thornton has developed a reputation among those that know him as the grandest of storytellers. Thornton shines as a narrator, whether he’s conspiring with friends to trick do-gooder passersby into picking up a “lost” pocketbook only to find a garden snake—or worse, a “turd”—hidden inside (“The Disappearing Pocketbooks”) or hiding his teacher’s yardstick after getting whacked one too many times for misbehaving (“Claustrophobia”). Beyond all the rabble-rousing, some of the best stories delve into the hardships of “getting by” in a poor, isolated community. He learns how to “make do” by reusing household objects (“Waste Not”), maintain a bountiful garden (“Putting Food on the Table”) and whip up tasty feasts in the kitchen from what most would consider inedible sources: chicken feet, squirrel brains and hog guts (“Strange Edibles”). The characters, too, are drawn with painstaking detail and affection. Shotgun Essie, Thornton’s grandmother, is a pistol and a half, and her adages speak volumes about her quirky personality. While Thornton’s writing style isn’t particularly polished, tidy sentences and careful paragraph construction are almost beside the point in these stories. Instead, readers will relish following Thornton as he leapfrogs from one tangential thought to the next, sharing gossip and porchside ramblings about those dear to his heart and the experiences that shaped him. Adding further atmosphere and depth to an already rich project are Harrison’s delicate, thoroughly expressive black-and-white sketches, as well as two maps of the Bend immediately following the foreword. Ultimately, the only activity more rewarding than reading these stories would be to hear Thornton tell them aloud, possibly while sitting around a campfire.