Language is clearly the author’s preferred mode of structuring the world, but it is also the plaything he uses with...

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ONE DAY I WILL WRITE ABOUT THIS PLACE

A MEMOIR

A colorful, at times surreal debut memoir about coming of age in the hyper-diverse culture of late-20th-century Kenya.

Although he came from ethnically “mixed up” parents, Caine Prize–winning author Wainaina had an ordinary childhood. During the week, he went to school and on weekends played at his Uganda-born mother’s hair salon, “the only proper [one] in Nakuru…the fourth largest town Kenya.” His father, head of the national Pyrethrum Board, was a member of Kenya’s most populous—and politically powerful—ethnic group, the Gikuyu. When the country’s first president, Jomo Kenyatta (also a Gikuyu) died in 1978 and Daniel arap Moi, a Kalenjin, took over, life began to change. To the outside world, Moi’s Kenya appeared “an island of peace” in the sea of conflict-ridden East Africa. But the reality was far different. There was fierce competition between the many Kenyan tribes, and the country’s cacophony of language and sounds was little more than background noise to be endured rather the celebrated. By 1983, Moi, who had survived a coup attempt the year before, was showing tribal favoritism. Top-ranked high schools denied Wainaina, an excellent student, entrance at the same time that Kalenjins began replacing Gikuyus throughout the education system. As national politics turned increasingly bitter, “a fever of rapture-seeking” seized Kenya. With the country’s university system in disarray, Wainaina traveled to post-apartheid South Africa to study finance. Homesick, he withdrew both socially and emotionally and immersed himself in literature. He returned to Kenya but eventually went back to South Africa, ostensibly to finish his degree. Instead, he found himself actively ordering the chaos of culture, language and politics around him “on the written page.”

Language is clearly the author’s preferred mode of structuring the world, but it is also the plaything he uses with idiosyncratic grace and brilliant immediacy to capture “the scattered, shifting sensations” of memories and emotions long past.

Pub Date: July 19, 2011

ISBN: 978-1-55597-591-3

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Graywolf

Review Posted Online: April 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2011

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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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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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