Despite some fine writing and genuinely interesting social history, this exploration of the self through the lens of family...

AN ECHO IN MY BLOOD

THE SEARCH FOR A FAMILY'S HIDDEN PAST

            Everyone’s family history is endlessly fascinating – to them.  To avoid boring a non-family member, however, requires either great skill as a storyteller or extremely colorful relatives.

            Journalist Weisman (Gaviotas:  A Village to Reinvent the World, not reviewed), who has contributed to the Los Angeles Times and New York Times magazines, among others, sets himself a daunting task in his multigenerational chronicle of his family’s journey from the Ukrainian shtetl to the Minnesota middle class.  To the author’s surprise, this upward march includes innumerable lies that his relatives told to each other and to themselves in order to survive and prosper.  The consequences of these lies, both moral and practical, are at the heart of the family saga, which is dominated in the retelling by Weisman’s father:  football hero, labor lawyer, political insider, and domestic tyrant.  While his relationships with his family make for painful reading, Weisman skillfully conveys how his father’s character was shaped by a profound insecurity that allowed him to achieve traditional success but lessened him as a person.  In reaching this insight, Weisman does what we all do when we reach adulthood:  see our parents not as unassailable archetypes but as flawed human beings.  As the French say, to understand all is to forgive all.  Despite his attempt to understand his family heritage, Weisman seems a long way from fully forgiving.  There is much unresolved bitterness here and an adolescent instinct to make himself the center of attention.  In relating the discovery of his mother’s long-hidden abortion, why else interject:  “How fathomless the loss.  Because I’d been there.”

            Despite some fine writing and genuinely interesting social history, this exploration of the self through the lens of family history is too narrow a subject to sustain this lengthy narrative.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-15-100291-6

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1999

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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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