For fans of Laclos and De Staël, an overstuffed portrait of a long-gone era.

THE LAST LIBERTINES

Wide-ranging history of a doomed generation of French aristocrats whose world would come to an end with the storming of the Bastille in 1789.

Craveri, an Italian professor of French literature, opens with Saint-Beuve’s famous observation, “It is always a beautiful thing to be twenty years old.” So it is, she allows, but especially for the young generation that came up around the time of the reign of Louis XVI. Some brilliant and some merely rich idlers, the seven historical figures she portrays as representative of their class had not just wealth and nobility at their command; they also took note, to varying degrees, of the Enlightenment ideals that were springing up around them. Four of her subjects were counts, two dukes, one a mere “chevalier,” but all understood, by Craveri’s account, that the meritocratic ideal of thinkers like Diderot mattered less than the accident of their birth. Some of the author’s characters hitched their fortunes to the star that was Marie Antoinette, the “ravishing, frivolous queen.” But then, the nobility as a whole tended toward the frivolous, given to intensely public displays of consumption, campaigns of gaining royal favor, court intrigues, and the usual affairs, all expressions of what the author calls “classical libertinism.” (She adds that the habit of the extramarital affair “played the role of corrective for a matrimonial institution indifferent to the wishes of its contracting parties.”) Craveri’s narrative is long, winding, and leisurely, as the author takes her time getting to the French Revolution and the arrival of the guillotine, which took some—but not all—of the aristocrats off the stage. Indeed, there’s a hint of Balzac to the prose, which has some nice moments, as when she writes of one social climber, “Julie was too proud to submit to the logic of caste that relegated her to the margins of society.”

For fans of Laclos and De Staël, an overstuffed portrait of a long-gone era. (20 illustrations)

Pub Date: Aug. 18, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-68137-340-9

Page Count: 680

Publisher: New York Review Books

Review Posted Online: April 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2020

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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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Another amiable book that is just what you’d expect from Willie.

WILLIE NELSON'S LETTERS TO AMERICA

An epistolary grab bag of memories, lyrics, jokes, and homespun philosophy from the legendary musician.

As an indefatigable touring artist, Nelson (b. 1933) has had a lot of time on his hands during the pandemic. Following his collaboration with his sister, Me and Sister Bobbie, the road warrior offers a loose collection of lessons from a full life. If you’ve never read a book by or about Nelson, this one—characteristically conversational, inspirational, wise, funny, and meandering—is a good place to start. The book is filled with lyrics to many of his best-known songs, most of which he wrote but others that he has made his own as well. For those steeped in The Tao of Willie (2006), some of the stories will be as familiar as the songs—e.g., the origin story of his nicknames, including Booger Red and Shotgun Willie; his time as a DJ and a door-to-door Bible and encyclopedia salesman; early struggles in Nashville with “all the record executives who only see music as a bottom-line endeavor”; and return to his home state of Texas. Many of the personal stories about family and friends can be found in Me and Sister Bobbie, but they are good stories from a rich life, one of abundance for which Nelson remains profoundly grateful. So he gives thanks in the form of letters: to Texas, America, God, golf, and marijuana; the audiences who have supported him and the band that has had his back; those who have played any part in Farm Aid or his annual Fourth of July concert bashes; and departed friends and deceased heroes, one of whom, Will Rogers, answers him back. Nelson even addresses one to Covid-19, which looms over this book, making the author itchy and antsy. Even at 87, he can’t wait to be on the road again.

Another amiable book that is just what you’d expect from Willie.

Pub Date: June 29, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-7852-4154-6

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Harper Horizon

Review Posted Online: April 14, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2021

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