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A compelling companion to a novel that has stayed strange.

The fascinating story behind Albert Camus’ coldblooded masterpiece.

Ever since its 1942 publication, The Stranger has been a murder mystery in more ways than one: we know whodunit, we just don’t know why. The narrator, Meursault, is a killer without a motive; after the unprovoked shooting of an Arab, he goes to trial offering neither remorse nor defense and awaits execution in a jail cell consoled only by his bull-headed refusal to play his designated role. In this swiftly told, deeply researched literary investigation, Kaplan (Dreaming in French: The Paris Years of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, Susan Sontag, and Angela Davis, 2012, etc.) pieces together the creation of the novel, its connection to colonialism, and how it has been interpreted ever since. The plot evolved from both notebook jottings (“Story: the man who doesn’t want to justify himself”) and events Camus witnessed as a reporter in Nazi-occupied Algeria; the spare, simple style was the result of years of painstaking rewriting. The first critics noted traces of James M. Cain and Franz Kafka, and Jean-Paul Sartre saw, or imagined, only the influence of himself and wrote a critique that turned The Stranger into the book that introduced existentialism to the West. (Camus, for his part, thought the book “anti-existentialist.”) Kaplan can be overly effusive at times—it overstates the case to say the novel “would change the history of modern literature”—but she assembles the facts with astute narrative skill. She is driven by the novel’s many abiding puzzles: who or what does Meursault represent? Is he a man who finds his own solipsistic integrity in the face of an irrational universe, or is he just a callous sociopath? While she doesn’t offer any final interpretation, her detective work deepens the understanding of a work whose power resides as much in what it doesn’t say as what it does.

A compelling companion to a novel that has stayed strange.

Pub Date: Sept. 22, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-226-24167-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Univ. of Chicago

Review Posted Online: July 3, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2016

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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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