An engrossing portrait of an emblematic Victorian.

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The Double Life of Laurence Oliphant

VICTORIAN PILGRIM AND PROPHET

A rollicking biography of a classic 19th-century figure, featuring imperial adventure, high diplomacy, literary fame, and an eccentric cult focused on bizarrely sublimated sexuality.

Casey recounts the impossibly full life of Oliphant, a Scottish aristocrat born in 1829 during an era when his privileged caste ran the world. The son of the chief justice of Britain’s Ceylon colony, Oliphant gained fame with bestselling travelogues of Nepal, Russia, and Canada and worked as a foreign correspondent and British diplomat (sometimes both) in global hot spots: he stormed Chinese cities during the Opium Wars, parried sword attacks by anti-Western samurai in Tokyo, toured the corpse-strewn battlefields of the Franco-Prussian War, and witnessed the bloody destruction of the Paris Commune. Eventually, jaded by his life as a member of Parliament, satirical novelist, and London rake, he sought redemption with American spiritualist Thomas Lake Harris and his Brethren of the New Life group, which ran utopian communes in New York and California. Much of Casey’s book offers an entertaining account of Harris’ strange doctrines. Converts did manual labor cleaning stables and scrubbing laundry; the faithful “de-magnetized” each other of “lust currents” by counterintuitively having communal nude scrub-downs. They also practiced deep-breathing exercises that induced mystical visions; during these, disciples would join in orgasmic union with their opposite-sex “other half” in the celestial realm. (Earthly sex, however, was frowned upon: Harris separated families and forbade Oliphant and his wife, Alice, to have sex, explaining that they were not each other’s true celestial soulmates.) Breaking with Harris, but not all his teachings, after Harris announced the second coming and proclaimed himself king of the world, Oliphant went on to help establish Zionist colonies in Palestine. Casey relates this colorful saga with well-paced narrative aplomb, setting it against the cultural ferment of the 19th century. His version of Oliphant is as an appealing character, part dashing man of the world and part idealistic seeker, possessed of both ardent religiosity and droll humor. He and his associates emerge as embodiments of a time of boundless horizons and breathtaking ambitions, of spiritual yearning that chafed against expectations of mundane happiness and fulfillment, and of a hunger for charismatic figures who lent a cosmic glamour to technological and political upheavals of the era. The result is an energetic page-turner, a shrewd character study, and a rich social history.

An engrossing portrait of an emblematic Victorian.

Pub Date: Dec. 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-61-868796-8

Page Count: 200

Publisher: Post Hill Press

Review Posted Online: Nov. 3, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2015

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A standout immigrant coming-of-age story.

THE DISTANCE BETWEEN US

A MEMOIR

In her first nonfiction book, novelist Grande (Dancing with Butterflies, 2009, etc.) delves into her family’s cycle of separation and reunification.

Raised in poverty so severe that spaghetti reminded her of the tapeworms endemic to children in her Mexican hometown, the author is her family’s only college graduate and writer, whose honors include an American Book Award and International Latino Book Award. Though she was too young to remember her father when he entered the United States illegally seeking money to improve life for his family, she idolized him from afar. However, she also blamed him for taking away her mother after he sent for her when the author was not yet 5 years old. Though she emulated her sister, she ultimately answered to herself, and both siblings constantly sought affirmation of their parents’ love, whether they were present or not. When one caused disappointment, the siblings focused their hopes on the other. These contradictions prove to be the narrator’s hallmarks, as she consistently displays a fierce willingness to ask tough questions, accept startling answers, and candidly render emotional and physical violence. Even as a girl, Grande understood the redemptive power of language to define—in the U.S., her name’s literal translation, “big queen,” led to ridicule from other children—and to complicate. In spelling class, when a teacher used the sentence “my mamá loves me” (mi mamá me ama), Grande decided to “rearrange the words so that they formed a question: ¿Me ama mi mamá? Does my mama love me?”

A standout immigrant coming-of-age story.

Pub Date: Aug. 28, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4516-6177-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: June 12, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2012

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Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

TOMBSTONE

THE EARP BROTHERS, DOC HOLLIDAY, AND THE VENDETTA RIDE FROM HELL

Rootin’-tootin’ history of the dry-gulchers, horn-swogglers, and outright killers who populated the Wild West’s wildest city in the late 19th century.

The stories of Wyatt Earp and company, the shootout at the O.K. Corral, and Geronimo and the Apache Wars are all well known. Clavin, who has written books on Dodge City and Wild Bill Hickok, delivers a solid narrative that usefully links significant events—making allies of white enemies, for instance, in facing down the Apache threat, rustling from Mexico, and other ethnically charged circumstances. The author is a touch revisionist, in the modern fashion, in noting that the Earps and Clantons weren’t as bloodthirsty as popular culture has made them out to be. For example, Wyatt and Bat Masterson “took the ‘peace’ in peace officer literally and knew that the way to tame the notorious town was not to outkill the bad guys but to intimidate them, sometimes with the help of a gun barrel to the skull.” Indeed, while some of the Clantons and some of the Earps died violently, most—Wyatt, Bat, Doc Holliday—died of cancer and other ailments, if only a few of old age. Clavin complicates the story by reminding readers that the Earps weren’t really the law in Tombstone and sometimes fell on the other side of the line and that the ordinary citizens of Tombstone and other famed Western venues valued order and peace and weren’t particularly keen on gunfighters and their mischief. Still, updating the old notion that the Earp myth is the American Iliad, the author is at his best when he delineates those fraught spasms of violence. “It is never a good sign for law-abiding citizens,” he writes at one high point, “to see Johnny Ringo rush into town, both him and his horse all in a lather.” Indeed not, even if Ringo wound up killing himself and law-abiding Tombstone faded into obscurity when the silver played out.

Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-21458-4

Page Count: 400

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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