Though brief, a densely packed and rewarding book.

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PROUST

THE SEARCH

A sensitive study of literature’s favorite neurasthenic.

The French Jewish novelist Marcel Proust (1871-1922), writes Taylor (Graduate Writing Program/New School; Naples Declared: A Walk Around the Bay, 2012, etc.), was sickly and of course really sick, physically and emotionally. Yet even before he locked himself into a cork-lined room and bid high society adieu, he labored endlessly, putting sickness to good use. At 15, for instance, he read endlessly. “Much of the literature that would be most important to Proust was internalized during this period of insatiable reading,” writes Taylor, a reading list that included huge and ambitious novels by Tolstoy, Balzac, Dostoyevsky, and George Eliot. Against the backdrop of essentially private activity, Taylor does good work in locating Proust among more or less privileged contemporaries, gay and straight and indifferent, and against a time that saw the emergence of a nationally tolerated anti-Semitism in events that Proust followed carefully and incorporated into his books. But for all the strength of his cultural historicizing, the author is best as a reader of Proust alone—and an observer of Proust at work writing À la recherche du temps perdu, complaining bitterly to his publisher about the agonies of editing (“The struggle to read four thousand pages of proofs,” Taylor sagely notes, “was exhausting and enraging”), and howling, “I cannot cut the book as easily as a lump of butter.” Readers of Proust will be fascinated to find clues as to who his characters were in real life, and they should be moved to appreciation by Taylor’s assessment of Proust’s accomplishment, capturing nothing less than time itself, that thing that, if it turns us into dust, “also makes us giants.” And not only that, but capturing time in “a moral accounting as comprehensive as Dante’s….”

Though brief, a densely packed and rewarding book.

Pub Date: Oct. 27, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-300-16416-9

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: July 30, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2015

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An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

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BECOMING

The former first lady opens up about her early life, her journey to the White House, and the eight history-making years that followed.

It’s not surprising that Obama grew up a rambunctious kid with a stubborn streak and an “I’ll show you” attitude. After all, it takes a special kind of moxie to survive being the first African-American FLOTUS—and not only survive, but thrive. For eight years, we witnessed the adversity the first family had to face, and now we get to read what it was really like growing up in a working-class family on Chicago’s South Side and ending up at the world’s most famous address. As the author amply shows, her can-do attitude was daunted at times by racism, leaving her wondering if she was good enough. Nevertheless, she persisted, graduating from Chicago’s first magnet high school, Princeton, and Harvard Law School, and pursuing careers in law and the nonprofit world. With her characteristic candor and dry wit, she recounts the story of her fateful meeting with her future husband. Once they were officially a couple, her feelings for him turned into a “toppling blast of lust, gratitude, fulfillment, wonder.” But for someone with a “natural resistance to chaos,” being the wife of an ambitious politician was no small feat, and becoming a mother along the way added another layer of complexity. Throw a presidential campaign into the mix, and even the most assured woman could begin to crack under the pressure. Later, adjusting to life in the White House was a formidable challenge for the self-described “control freak”—not to mention the difficulty of sparing their daughters the ugly side of politics and preserving their privacy as much as possible. Through it all, Obama remained determined to serve with grace and help others through initiatives like the White House garden and her campaign to fight childhood obesity. And even though she deems herself “not a political person,” she shares frank thoughts about the 2016 election.

An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6313-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 30, 2018

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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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