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A thoughtful, well-written memorial to an important but overlooked figure in modern Jewish letters—and a real treat for...

A well-rendered life of the philanthropist, activist, autodidact, and publisher who acted as an important gatekeeper and advocate of European Jewish culture through much of the last century.

Now an “infrequent footnote in scholarly monographs dealing with the history of German Jews,” as David (Gershom Scholem: A Life in Letters, not reviewed) puts it, Salman Schocken (1877–1959) was a barely educated Ostjuden, or Eastern Jew, from Poland who made his way westward, fell under the spell of Nietzsche and other German writers and thinkers, and evolved into a “mystical merchant” (the phrase is Gershom Scholem’s) who built a small empire of department stores and other businesses while reading just about every book ever written. This was just the sort of career trajectory that some German Jews—and, of course, many Germans—feared, and Schocken battled plenty of resentments and prejudices as he earned his fortune, all of which may have helped push him into the Zionist camp early on. Schocken—who altered his name to the modern, businesslike “S. Schocken Jr.” about the time he established himself in Berlin—had a mistrust for organized politics and society, but he became a stalwart of Zionist culture-building. Working with the likes of Scholem, Martin Buber, S.Y. Agnon, Max Brod (and through him Franz Kafka), and other writers, Schocken became a publisher and patron; in him, in David’s words, “the Jewish renaissance found its Medici.” A bibliophile who considered his 30,000-volume library to be his autobiography, Schocken was forced out of Germany after Hitler’s rise to power, though he managed to move much of his inventory to Palestine after hard bargaining with the Nazi authorities. A modern nomad, he wandered between Jerusalem and New York (where he founded the publishing company that bears his name today), adding Switzerland, Italy, and other European ports of call after the war, and contributing to that renaissance for the rest of his life, as his descendants continue to do today.

A thoughtful, well-written memorial to an important but overlooked figure in modern Jewish letters—and a real treat for bibliophiles.

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 2003

ISBN: 0-8050-6630-6

Page Count: 450

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2003

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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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