A graceful, sympathetic biography of an innovative American poet.

THE BEAUTY OF LIVING

E.E. CUMMINGS IN THE GREAT WAR

How outrage over brutality and violence informed a well-known poet's work.

British literary scholar Rosenblitt creates a perceptive, captivating portrait of the modernist Edward Estlin Cummings (1894-1962), focusing on his early years and experience during World War I. Cummings, she argues persuasively, “remained a war poet until the end of his life. His sympathy with the smallest of creatures, and the beauty that he saw in the world, come out of the destruction that he saw during the war.” Cummings grew up in Massachusetts; his father, minister of Boston’s progressive South Congregational Church, was socially liberal but, within his family, “deeply authoritarian,” generating in his son a “suppressed rage and sense of failure” that led, increasingly, to personal and literary rebellion. At Harvard, cummings was drawn to “Decadence, classicism, Futurism, and poetry.” When war broke out, he volunteered as an ambulance driver in France, a decision that felt willful yet still one that his father would approve. “It was defiance without actual defiance,” Rosenblitt observes. Once in Paris, logistical problems left him and his friend William Brown at large for a month while they waited to be processed. During that time, he fell in love with Marie Louise Lallemand, a prostitute, which Rosenblitt characterizes as a deeply profound relationship. Cummings “clung to his love” for her “because to him she embodied everything about beauty and tragic nobility that would seem to give some romanticized meaning to war and death.” Shortly after beginning their service as ambulance drivers, on the basis of ill-considered letters, cummings and Brown were arrested for being German sympathizers. Through his father’s vociferous efforts, cummings was released after 3 months of imprisonment, an experience he chronicled in visceral detail in The Enormous Room. Besides insightful analyses of cummings’ poetry, Rosenblitt presents him as an accomplished artist, with 74 pieces at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

A graceful, sympathetic biography of an innovative American poet. (16 pages of illustrations)

Pub Date: July 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-393-24696-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: April 5, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2020

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A top-notch political memoir and serious exercise in practical politics for every reader.

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A PROMISED LAND

In the first volume of his presidential memoir, Obama recounts the hard path to the White House.

In this long, often surprisingly candid narrative, Obama depicts a callow youth spent playing basketball and “getting loaded,” his early reading of difficult authors serving as a way to impress coed classmates. (“As a strategy for picking up girls, my pseudo-intellectualism proved mostly worthless,” he admits.) Yet seriousness did come to him in time and, with it, the conviction that America could live up to its stated aspirations. His early political role as an Illinois state senator, itself an unlikely victory, was not big enough to contain Obama’s early ambition, nor was his term as U.S. Senator. Only the presidency would do, a path he painstakingly carved out, vote by vote and speech by careful speech. As he writes, “By nature I’m a deliberate speaker, which, by the standards of presidential candidates, helped keep my gaffe quotient relatively low.” The author speaks freely about the many obstacles of the race—not just the question of race and racism itself, but also the rise, with “potent disruptor” Sarah Palin, of a know-nothingism that would manifest itself in an obdurate, ideologically driven Republican legislature. Not to mention the meddlings of Donald Trump, who turns up in this volume for his idiotic “birther” campaign while simultaneously fishing for a contract to build “a beautiful ballroom” on the White House lawn. A born moderate, Obama allows that he might not have been ideological enough in the face of Mitch McConnell, whose primary concern was then “clawing [his] way back to power.” Indeed, one of the most compelling aspects of the book, as smoothly written as his previous books, is Obama’s cleareyed scene-setting for how the political landscape would become so fractured—surely a topic he’ll expand on in the next volume.

A top-notch political memoir and serious exercise in practical politics for every reader.

Pub Date: Nov. 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6316-9

Page Count: 768

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 16, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2020

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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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