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Impeccable research informs a prose that sings, whirls, and delights. (10 photos, not seen)

Lively, literate biography of the incredible Sarah Breedlove, who rose from perfect poverty to create her own hair-care business and build a mansion on the Hudson.

“There has never been anyone like her,” declares novelist Lowry (The Track of Real Desires, 1994, etc.; Creative Nonfiction/George Mason Univ.) of the African-American entrepreneur praised by the National Association of Colored Women as “the foremost business woman of our race.” Charging into her story with boundless energy and a bountiful imagination, the author employs all her considerable artistic and scholarly skills to uncover the rough edges of a life smoothed over in her subject’s promotional materials. A consummate businesswoman who took the surname of her third husband and declared herself “Madam,” Walker frequently lied to journalists, and many details of her life cannot be verified. Not for lack of effort on the part of Lowry, who chased Walker all over the country—from her birth in 1867 and her childhood on the Mississippi to her years in St. Louis, Denver, Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, and New York City—digging in public records, reading old newspapers, trying to establish a sturdy foundation on which to erect the edifice of her story. When Lowry cannot uncover fact, her fecund imagination suffices: “[We] engage in storytelling and educated guesswork,” she states, and one magnificent example is her stunning set piece about doing wash in pre-Maytag days (Walker spent years as a washerwoman). The author chronicles the long and uneasy relationship between Walker and Booker T. Washington, who was never comfortable around this determined, ambitious woman. Throughout, Lowry weaves in depressing data about lynchings and racial murders. She includes characters as diverse as the two Johnsons (Jack and James Weldon), but the focus always remains sharply on Walker, on the development and marketing of her hair-care products, and on her wastrel daughter A’Lelia, who frittered away her mother’s fortune. (A’Lelia gets more sympathetic treatment in Ben Neihart’s Rough Amusements, p. 213.)

Impeccable research informs a prose that sings, whirls, and delights. (10 photos, not seen)

Pub Date: April 30, 2003

ISBN: 0-679-44642-7

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 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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