A memoir from the shadows that’s just as fascinating as those that inhabit the spotlight.

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A ghostwriter pens her own revealing story.

Cagan (Peace Is Possible, 2007, etc.) has worked as a professional writer for more than 20 years. On the surface, she’s lived an enviable, adventurous life, hobnobbing with the rich and famous and traveling the world. Yet her memoir is an honest, balanced reflection that follows the circuitous path she took to achieving peace and, perhaps, contentment. Cagan was a dancer for years before taking a foray into acting and eventually ending up as a writer. The self-confidence and discipline that Cagan learned in ballet helped her in many of her subsequent challenges and prepared her for the unconventional life she would ultimately lead. Later, as a ghostwriter, she learned the art of ordering the chaos of another person’s life and truly dissolving her own self to become “the other.” The memoir then reflects on her work as a writer in addition to other aspects of her past, such as failed marriages, her relationship with her mother, and the death of a loved one. She explores broad topics, such as religion and aging, offering numerous anecdotes and relating hard lessons she’s learned. It’s an intriguing and potentially frightening undertaking to move from composing others’ stories to exposing one’s own inner workings. As Cagan does so, she’s often candid, humorous, reflective, and remorseful; she doesn’t shy away from divulging the darker aspects of her life, including frequent drug use and abusive relationships. Her memoir takes a nonlinear, thematically organized approach. This strategy pays off as the chapters pull from different eras of her life, connected by thematic threads. In “Intrepid,” for example, the topics range from her father’s fearlessness to her own courage years later volunteering at an AIDS hospice. In the closing pages, Cagan wonders whether she’s “done enough” to pen an interesting memoir. Simply put: she has.

A memoir from the shadows that’s just as fascinating as those that inhabit the spotlight. 

Pub Date: June 25, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-5053-1962-0

Page Count: 286

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Aug. 7, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2015


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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