AMERICAN JENNIE

THE REMARKABLE LIFE OF LADY RANDOLPH CHURCHILL

A conscientious undertaking that offers plenty of food for thought.

The eventful life of Winston Churchill’s mother, recounted by a writer who has penned similar tomes on Mother Teresa and Laura Ashley.

Sebba (Exiled Collector, 2004, etc.) draws on many sources for her biography of Lady Randolph Churchill (1854–1921), born Jennie Jerome in Brooklyn, N.Y., but she makes especially good use of an extensive archive of personal correspondence. Jennie’s early years are quickly dispensed with, and the main narrative begins with a whirlwind romance that inserted this American beauty into the English aristocracy. She met 24-year-old Randolph Churchill at a shipboard ball in the summer of 1873; three days later, they considered themselves engaged. From this point on, Sebba’s text is laced with long quotations from letters Jennie wrote and received, and they add real dramatic verve to her retelling. “I love you better than anything on earth,” averred Randolph in an epistle written during the eight months it took the impetuous young couple to win consent from their reluctant parents. Sebba paints the big picture via myriad small details, making note of exchanges about the perils of smoking, telling stories about young Winston’s demanding nature as a child and indicating that Jennie was often bored by the pomp and ceremony that surrounded someone in her position. She had various affairs while still married to Randolph and wed twice more after his death in 1895. Jennie didn’t live long enough to see Winston become prime minister, yet Sebba offers plenty of evidence to suggest that she was an early political mentor to her son, including fascinating passages about their joint opposition to the suffragettes and quotes from friends who observed her “unswerving faith in his capacities.” Such material provides welcome insight into their relationship.

A conscientious undertaking that offers plenty of food for thought.

Pub Date: Nov. 19, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-393-05772-0

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2007

NIGHT

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

THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS

FROM MEAN STREETS TO WALL STREET

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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