Good fun for nonspecialists, but aficionados will want more substance. (16 pages b&w photos)

MARIA CALLAS

AN INTIMATE BIOGRAPHY

A serviceable account of the star-crossed diva—but it has much competition.

Perhaps the greatest prima donna of them all, Callas rose to stardom despite a horrific upbringing. Evangelia Callas, the stage mother from hell, was determined that her daughter would reap the money and social status that fate had denied her. She alienated Maria from her loving father and pimped Maria’s sister as a mistress. All this was acted out against the terrible backdrop of German-occupied Athens. Evangelia’s determination was not misplaced, however. Maria, although pimply and overweight, showed phenomenal talent from a young age. Owing to excellent training, great intelligence, fine acting abilities, and a limitless capacity for work, Callas eventually became the best-known opera singer in the world. Sadly, she did not enjoy success for long. Her voice deteriorated when still quite young. Manipulated and exploited by many (especially by her lover Aristotle Onassis), her career was over by her mid-40s and she was dead of a drug overdose at 53. Edwards (Ever After, 2000, etc.) tells Callas’s story efficiently and readably. There is, however, a dated, sensational quality to her writing, reminiscent of scandal sheets of years past. She also engages in that hoary British tradition of making fun of the nouveau riches of America, as if Albion has never been graced with that species. An air of sloppiness and haste pervades: needless repetitions of opera plots, and astonishingly poor word choices (she twice confuses “enervate” for “energize,” and she writes that Robert Kennedy’s assassination occurred “at a fund-raising affair”). Or consider this howler: “designer Piero Tosi (named for an ancestral forebear, the seventeenth-century castrato).” Edwards is a storyteller, not a cultural analyst. Once Callas is cremated and the last scandal is dealt with, she gives us a single perfunctory paragraph commenting on Callas’s impact and then ends it, rather like a college term paper written the night before.

Good fun for nonspecialists, but aficionados will want more substance. (16 pages b&w photos)

Pub Date: Aug. 20, 2001

ISBN: 0-312-26986-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2001

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

The book begins in Sri Lanka with the tsunami of 2004—a horror the author saw firsthand, and the aftermath of which he...

LIVES OTHER THAN MY OWN

The latest from French writer/filmmaker Carrère (My Life as a Russian Novel, 2010, etc.) is an awkward but intermittently touching hybrid of novel and autobiography.

The book begins in Sri Lanka with the tsunami of 2004—a horror the author saw firsthand, and the aftermath of which he describes powerfully. Carrère and his partner, Hélène, then return to Paris—and do so with a mutual devotion that's been renewed and deepened by all they've witnessed. Back in France, Hélène's sister Juliette, a magistrate and mother of three small daughters, has suffered a recurrence of the cancer that crippled her in adolescence. After her death, Carrère decides to write an oblique tribute and an investigation into the ravages of grief. He focuses first on Juliette's colleague and intimate friend Étienne, himself an amputee and survivor of childhood cancer, and a man in whose talkativeness and strength Carrère sees parallels to himself ("He liked to talk about himself. It's my way, he said, of talking to and about others, and he remarked astutely that it was my way, too”). Étienne is a perceptive, dignified person and a loyal, loving friend, and Carrère's portrait of him—including an unexpectedly fascinating foray into Étienne and Juliette's chief professional accomplishment, which was to tap the new European courts for help in overturning longtime French precedents that advantaged credit-card companies over small borrowers—is impressive. Less successful is Carrère's account of Juliette's widower, Patrice, an unworldly cartoonist whom he admires for his fortitude but seems to consider something of a simpleton. Now and again, especially in the Étienne sections, Carrère's meditations pay off in fresh, pungent insights, and his account of Juliette's last days and of the aftermath (especially for her daughters) is quietly harrowing.

Pub Date: Sept. 13, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-8050-9261-5

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Metropolitan/Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: Aug. 11, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2011

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

INTO THE WILD

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 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1995

Did you like this book?

more