A shimmering portrait of a clan molded by history and personal whim.

Expatriate Lebanese novelist Maalouf (Balthasar’s Odyssey, 2002, etc.) explores the gap between family legend and family history.

The author begins and ends with the death of his father, who fatally surrendered to a stroke on the anniversary of his own father’s death. Sifting through a trunk of correspondence, photographs and ephemera, Maalouf’s obsession grew as he discovered that his kin’s story unfolded in several countries and was intricately tied to the history of another household in the same village in Lebanon. Traveling through time and space as he tracked the evolution of his family, Maalouf learned that his grandfather, Botros, staunchly refused to baptize his six children, believing that true spirituality resulted from education and choice. Botros’s brother, a devout Catholic and member of the clergy, deemed both his methods and his marriage to a Protestant woman reprehensible. In addition to the struggle between Catholicism and Protestantism, other tensions brewed between those who emigrated and those who stayed, between living family members and the dead they remembered. Maalouf’s narrative gains in emotional immediacy from its lack of the polished presentation often found in memoirs. We witness him sobbing on his Paris apartment floor in front of the trunk, devastated to realize how much he doesn’t know. We rejoice with him at finding the decorated tomb of his great uncle, who emigrated to Havana and earned success unobtainable to his relatives in Lebanon. While exploring his own history, Maalouf inevitably stumbles across the effects of events played on the larger screen of his country and the world, such as the Young Turk Revolution of 1908 and World War I. His kin’s reactions to tragedies and triumphs both personal and universal add to the book’s vibrant texture and tone.

A shimmering portrait of a clan molded by history and personal whim.

Pub Date: June 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-374-22732-6

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2008


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



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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