A tender, poetic chronicle of an exile’s return.



Beset by memories, a Congolese writer revisits his native village.

In 1989, when he was 22, novelist, poet, and essayist Mabanckou (Literature/ UCLA; Letter to Jimmy, 2014, etc.) left Pointe-Noire, in the Congo, and went to France. Twenty-three years later, he returned, feeling “like a migrating bird,” with “one foot suspended, hoping I might stop the flow of my existence, whose smooth course is troubled by the myriad leaves blown down from the family tree.” In lyrical and disarmingly serene prose, the author evokes his shock, wonder, and sometimes dismay as he searches for his past. At the Lycée Karl Marx, where he attended secondary school, he hoped “to relive the moment when my spirit ventured far from our native land, in search of universal knowledge.” Filled with apprehension as a new student, he saw education as his path away from the insularity of his family and into the world. He was incredulous when he learned that the school had been renamed, honoring a tyrannical governor of French Equatorial Africa. Much of the memoir evokes Mabanckou’s family: his strong-willed mother, whose death in 1995 was so traumatic that he could not face returning for her funeral; his aunt, whom he calls Grandma Hélène, “one of those people who you think has to have been born old, toothless, white haired, hesitant in her movements, like a stray gastropod”; his mother’s cousin, the lecherous Grand Poupy; assorted relatives; and others who insist they are related to him, the better to extract money. They live in a world pricked by petty squabbles and swirling with superstition. Grandma Hélène, for example, has “an obsessive fear of whites” because she believes a white woman will kiss her on the forehead and lead her to the land of the dead, where the sun never rises.

A tender, poetic chronicle of an exile’s return.

Pub Date: March 1, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-62097-190-1

Page Count: 208

Publisher: The New Press

Review Posted Online: Nov. 19, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2015

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.


The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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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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