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In the Unlikeliest of Places


A moving tale that’s emotionally powerful and historically edifying.

A daughter chronicles her father’s extraordinary life, including the suffering he endured under both Nazi and Communist tyrannies.

Nachman Libeskind was largely raised in Lodz, Poland, where his Jewish parents eked out a modest living with a small grocery store. Libeskind, who had three siblings, was an infectiously happy child, obsessed with art and music. Instead of sending him to a cheder, a traditional religious school, his parents reluctantly enrolled him at the Vladimir Medem School—a much more progressive, practical academy that changed Libeskind’s life. As a teenager, he was politically active in the Bundist movement and jailed; he quickly learned the precariousness of life in Poland as a socialist and as a Jew. After Nazi Germany annexed Lodz, it became clear that he had to flee the country. He headed to the southern hinterlands of the Soviet Union, and he met his future wife, Dora Blaustein, in Uzbekistan. The two were forced to work in labor camps in Kyrgyzstan before they eventually returned to Poland. The political climate there remained perilous, with Jews subject to harassment from the Soviet secret police and anti-Semites, both seemingly ubiquitous. In 1957, Libeskind moved his family to Israel, an exciting prospect for Dora, who was reunited with family members there. Later, they all moved to New York, where Libeskind made a name as a painter. Berkovits, Libeskind’s daughter and the author of this cinematically gripping debut biography, does a masterful job weaving together a coherent narrative, culled largely from tape recordings that her father left behind. She has a rare gift for storytelling, and along the way, she  intersperses her own, first-person accounts of her father as she knew him (“I remember the first time we talked about my father’s imprisonment when I was a young teenager and felt that somehow he wasn’t telling me the whole story”). Overall, the prose is lively and direct, and the story is deeply affecting. Sometimes, the author’s tendency to leap forward and backward in time is a touch disorienting, but this is a minor quibble when balanced against the work’s virtue as a whole.

A moving tale that’s emotionally powerful and historically edifying.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-77112-066-1

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Wilfrid Laurier University Press

Review Posted Online: Sept. 20, 2016

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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

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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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