VIGIL

Award-wining poet Shapiro, whose first memoir, The Last Happy Occasion (not reviewed) was highly acclaimed, wrenches all he can from this chronicle of his sister's death from breast cancer. As his mother, father, and brother join him at Beth's bedside in a Houston hospice, Shapiro (English/Univ. of North Carolina, Chapel Hill) recalls the rebelliousness of his oft-estranged sister. He notes the joy ``we all felt for the first time as a family; joy . . . in an intimacy whose very rarity added sadness to the joy.'' A founder of Students for a Democratic Society while at Michigan State University, Beth would further alienate her parents by marrying an African-American. As Shapiro reflects on these events, he does so as a loving younger brother who admired but did not share her feistiness. His sometimes critical observation of other family members' behavior during her last days is juxtaposed with his own deeply felt emotions: Russ, Beth's husband, ``was a peripheral figure'' during those final days, in part because of his own battle with heart disease, but also because of his intense sorrow and discomfort with the family. Shapiro's father dealt with it ``the way he dealt with everything—by thinking there was nothing he or anyone could do about it.'' His mother, doting and sad, showed her frustration by constantly kvetching about medical incompetence. Younger brother David, an actor, entertained with jokes and impressions. In the last hours before Beth died, David and the author stood at her bedside, each holding a hand: ``All I could do was look on in amazement at the mystery as it unfolded.'' He closes the volume with a few rather heavy-handed poems and a jarringly corny recollection of dancing to Motown records at Beth's wedding. Has its moments, both sad and profound, but as a memoir of a sister's life and death, it's far outclassed by Richard Stern's 1995 A Sistermony.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1997

ISBN: 0-226-75034-5

Page Count: 133

Publisher: Univ. of Chicago

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1997

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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 48 LAWS OF POWER

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...

NIGHT

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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