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An inspiring account of the writing life and a chilling glimpse of authoritarianism’s slippery slope.

Stark, compact essays about a writer’s imprisonment in an increasingly authoritarian Turkey.

In early 2018, Altan (Like a Sword Wound, 2018, etc.), an acclaimed novelist and essayist, was sentenced to life in prison for treason based on televised comments regarding a failed 2016 coup against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. As Philippe Sands recalls in his foreword, “[Altan] spoke with passion and courage, intelligence and humor on the writer’s place in a decent society.” This recollection aptly reflects this slim compendium of essays, produced by Altan while imprisoned. He sketches the arc of his descent into a demeaning carceral nightmare, beginning with charges of broadcasting “subliminal messages” in support of the coup. Later, this was changed to “putschism,” for which he was convicted; one judge cynically told him, “our prosecutors like using words the meanings of which they don’t know.” Altan was jailed alongside many intellectuals and military officers, and the first essays reflect their initial responses to incarceration. “In a matter of hours,” he writes, “I had travelled across five centuries to arrive at the dungeons of the Inquisition.” The author acknowledges the harrowing nature of his ordeal, and he positions himself in the tradition of imprisoned writers who respond to their plight by acknowledging its surreal qualities. “I had seen the monstrous face of reality,” he writes. “From now on I would live like a man clinging to a single branch.” While horrified by his eventual life sentence, he became determined to use the writer’s tools and identity to fight both inner despair and his government’s persecution: “I must confess that even from within a dark cell, the idea of fighting filled me with such exuberance that I was saying ‘To the end,’ with excitement.” This spirit infuses the book and lends rhythmic urgency to Altan’s voice as he reflects on the intensity of life in a cell, the plights of fellow prisoners, and how to recall loved ones without succumbing to despair.

An inspiring account of the writing life and a chilling glimpse of authoritarianism’s slippery slope.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-59051-992-9

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Other Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2019

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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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