An uneven but ultimately engrossing celebration of Syrian culture.




Miller’s passionate, history-laden travelogue about Syria bemoans the country’s bygone beauty and greatness.

Miller (Laying on of Hands, 2003), an artist and prolific author, has explored numerous cultures, including Peruvian, Mexican and Asian, and she now trains her perceptive eye on Syria, a country she’s visited multiple times and studied for years. The resulting project could be considered a memoir of her travels in one of the oldest continuously inhabited sites on Earth, but it functions more as a historical tour through 21 Syrian cities, each with its own chapter. While Miller indeed serves as a knowledgeable and fervent guide, extolling the splendors of Syrian art, music, literature and especially architecture, she struggles to define her audience. The book’s title suggests a personal memoir perhaps intended to heal Syria’s modern image, but before Miller ever mentions herself, the first 20 pages describe Damascus’ vastness and architecture, parse the city’s name and meander through its violent religious legacy. The opening information is so dense, it’s jolting to hear Miller suddenly wax personal. As the book progresses in this manner, with Miller occasionally pausing the tour in order to voice her lyrical whims, it becomes clear her presence only provides a periodic sense of personality to what is otherwise a rambling history book. After describing the Hanibla mosque in Damascus, whose tombs house “heroes and mystics,” Miller unexpectedly shifts from tour guide to poet: “How much of love is laughter? How much of faith is the promise of redemption? How much of beauty is a moment, when time, like breathing or a scent, stops in its tracks, looks around, and says, ‘I may have been here before. I may have loved like this.’ ” The bigger problem, perhaps, is that Miller never fully reveals her identity in relation to the country, nor why she’s in Syria in the first place. Readers must piece together the fact that she’s merely a tourist herself, that the countless references to “we” include her husband and that she has no intentions beside lamenting the country’s prominent but forgotten past. Miller is otherwise a capable, astute and thorough writer with an eye for antique elegance.

An uneven but ultimately engrossing celebration of Syrian culture.

Pub Date: Dec. 2, 2013

ISBN: 978-1492371458

Page Count: 308

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Jan. 14, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2014

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Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis...



Privately published by Strunk of Cornell in 1918 and revised by his student E. B. White in 1959, that "little book" is back again with more White updatings.

Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis (whoops — "A bankrupt expression") a unique guide (which means "without like or equal").

Pub Date: May 15, 1972

ISBN: 0205632645

Page Count: 105

Publisher: Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1972

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Possibly inspired by the letters Cleary has received as a children's author, this begins with second-grader Leigh Botts' misspelled fan letter to Mr. Henshaw, whose fictitious book itself derives from the old take-off title Forty Ways W. Amuse a Dog. Soon Leigh is in sixth grade and bombarding his still-favorite author with a list of questions to be answered and returned by "next Friday," the day his author report is due. Leigh is disgruntled when Mr. Henshaw's answer comes late, and accompanied by a set of questions for Leigh to answer. He threatens not to, but as "Mom keeps nagging me about your dumb old questions" he finally gets the job done—and through his answers Mr. Henshaw and readers learn that Leigh considers himself "the mediumest boy in school," that his parents have split up, and that he dreams of his truck-driver dad driving him to school "hauling a forty-foot reefer, which would make his outfit add up to eighteen wheels altogether. . . . I guess I wouldn't seem so medium then." Soon Mr. Henshaw recommends keeping a diary (at least partly to get Leigh off his own back) and so the real letters to Mr. Henshaw taper off, with "pretend," unmailed letters (the diary) taking over. . . until Leigh can write "I don't have to pretend to write to Mr. Henshaw anymore. I have learned to say what I think on a piece of paper." Meanwhile Mr. Henshaw offers writing tips, and Leigh, struggling with a story for a school contest, concludes "I think you're right. Maybe I am not ready to write a story." Instead he writes a "true story" about a truck haul with his father in Leigh's real past, and this wins praise from "a real live author" Leigh meets through the school program. Mr. Henshaw has also advised that "a character in a story should solve a problem or change in some way," a standard juvenile-fiction dictum which Cleary herself applies modestly by having Leigh solve his disappearing lunch problem with a burglar-alarmed lunch box—and, more seriously, come to recognize and accept that his father can't be counted on. All of this, in Leigh's simple words, is capably and unobtrusively structured as well as valid and realistic. From the writing tips to the divorced-kid blues, however, it tends to substitute prevailing wisdom for the little jolts of recognition that made the Ramona books so rewarding.

Pub Date: Aug. 22, 1983

ISBN: 143511096X

Page Count: 133

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1983

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