SHAME

Acclaimed French minimalist Ernaux (Exteriors, 1996, etc.), who has previously created docufictional versions of her past, now takes a violent incident from her childhood and turns it into a work of memory and meditation. On a Sunday in June after attending Mass, she witnessed her father try to kill her mother. The year was 1952, and the author was going on 12. Her parents had been quarreling and her father was reacting to her mother’s provocations. For the child who saw the attempt, life would never be the same, for from that day on she became aware of the sensation of shame and of seeing all subsequent embarrassments as colored by that event. It becomes the explanatory figure in this very tiny literary carpet she weaves around it. Her family aspired to something better for themselves: She went to private school, her mother was a regular church attendee, and they lived in a respectable quarter of the town. Now they were no better than those they despised for drawing attention to themselves by behaving in uncouth ways. She describes what life was like in her native town in 1952: the fashions, the events, and the town itself. Next, she recalls the moments of shame that now shadow her life: A schoolteacher sees her mother in a soiled nightgown, and she has her own humiliating encounter with a snobbish young girl during a family trip to Lourdes. She notes all the rules her family and school expected her to observe. But, as the author learned, all these anxious acts of propitiation and obedience can be nullified in an instant—respectability, like civilization, is a very fragile fabric. Intense and relentlessly earnest, but as usual Ernaux excels at capturing the exact emotion of an event and an era. Only the French can write, read, and buy such a book in great numbers.

Pub Date: June 15, 1998

ISBN: 1-888363-69-X

Page Count: 112

Publisher: Seven Stories

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 1998

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

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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