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STUART

A LIFE BACKWARDS

Imaginative, piercing portrayal of a man shadowed by merciless demons.

British homeless advocate Masters crafts an unconventional biography of a man who raged not only at the dying of the light but often at the very light itself.

The first-time author worked on Stuart Shorter’s story for several years, experiencing the frustrations and occasional joys of a close association with someone caught in chaos. When Masters finished a first draft, he showed it to Stuart, who said it was boring and should be organized more like a thriller or detective novel that worked backwards through events until the discovery of the Truth. One of the charms of this book is that Stuart comments occasionally about the current draft, offering suggestions, sniffing derisively or dismissively about the text. “In biography, most of the time, the real person is a nuisance,” Masters sighs. Stuart was indeed a most difficult case. Sexually abused by a brother and babysitter, addicted to glue-sniffing as a teen (and, later, to just about every other substance), a continual runaway, a habitual jailbird, a sometimes violent denizen of the streets, a common and an uncommon criminal, he was somehow likable as well. Masters claims he was never afraid of Stuart, with whom he shared quarters and close contact. The author does work backwards, sort of, in this final version. He begins in the present and ends with Stuart’s very obscure early childhood. Masters also keeps us apprised of what’s going on at the moment and offers a running commentary on the progress of his writing—a sort of meta-biography. His research included studying books about homelessness and the psychology (or pathology) of the abused, examining court and school records and reading articles. When Stuart is killed by a train (accident rather than suicide, it seems), Masters knows that the Truth he has been pursuing will forever elude him.

Imaginative, piercing portrayal of a man shadowed by merciless demons.

Pub Date: June 6, 2006

ISBN: 0-385-34000-1

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2006

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NIGHT

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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INTO THE WILD

A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor...

The excruciating story of a young man on a quest for knowledge and experience, a search that eventually cooked his goose, told with the flair of a seasoned investigative reporter by Outside magazine contributing editor Krakauer (Eiger Dreams, 1990). 

Chris McCandless loved the road, the unadorned life, the Tolstoyan call to asceticism. After graduating college, he took off on another of his long destinationless journeys, this time cutting all contact with his family and changing his name to Alex Supertramp. He was a gent of strong opinions, and he shared them with those he met: "You must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life''; "be nomadic.'' Ultimately, in 1992, his terms got him into mortal trouble when he ran up against something—the Alaskan wild—that didn't give a hoot about Supertramp's worldview; his decomposed corpse was found 16 weeks after he entered the bush. Many people felt McCandless was just a hubris-laden jerk with a death wish (he had discarded his map before going into the wild and brought no food but a bag of rice). Krakauer thought not. Admitting an interest that bordered on obsession, he dug deep into McCandless's life. He found a willful, reckless, moody boyhood; an ugly little secret that sundered the relationship between father and son; a moral absolutism that agitated the young man's soul and drove him to extremes; but he was no more a nutcase than other pilgrims. Writing in supple, electric prose, Krakauer tries to make sense of McCandless (while scrupulously avoiding off-the-rack psychoanalysis): his risky behavior and the rites associated with it, his asceticism, his love of wide open spaces, the flights of his soul.

A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor will it to readers of Krakauer's narrative. (4 maps) (First printing of 35,000; author tour)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-42850-X

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Villard

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1995

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