Potok, whose novels of families at odds with themselves ring so true (I Am the Clay, 1992, etc.), turns his attention to a deeply divided real-life family of Russian Jews. Volodya Slepak's name will be familiar to anyone who was active in the movement to free Soviet Jews in the 1970s and '80s. He and his wife, Masha, were two of the most steadfast of the "refuseniks," Jewish activists who were denied exit visas to emigrate to Israel from the Soviet Union. What is less familiar about Slepak is his family's unusual history. His father, Solomon, was a high-ranking functionary in the Bolshevik movement who weathered the purges and bloodshed of the Stalin era. Virtually until his death in his late 70s, Solomon continued to uphold the party and the Kremlin, disdaining his son's political activities. Potok, who first encountered Volodya when he himself was active in the movement for Soviet Jewry, has had access to many hours of taped interviews with Volodya, Masha, their two sons, and other family members and friends, and he has used them to reconstruct the story of a bitterly estranged father and son, and the ideological civil war that split them apart. Regrettably, because so much of the history of Solomon's life is missing—the KGB wouldn't release his files, much of his early story can only be garnered by reconstruction and guesswork—the first half of the book is sketchy and unsatisfying. When Potok begins to trace Volodya's history, his novelist's eye and ear help bring the tale to life. But the end of the story is a somber one, with both Volodya and the author given to pessimistic ruminations on the future of their respective homelands. While not on a par with his best fiction, this Potok offering will engage many readers, particularly those with vivid memories of the struggles of, and for, Soviet Jews.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-394-58867-3

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1996

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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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Analyzing his craft, a careful craftsman urges with Thoreauvian conviction that writers should simplify, simplify, simplify.


New York Times columnist and editorial board member delivers a slim book for aspiring writers, offering saws and sense, wisdom and waggery, biases and biting sarcasm.

Klinkenborg (Timothy; or, Notes of an Abject Reptile, 2006), who’s taught for decades, endeavors to keep things simple in his prose, and he urges other writers to do the same. (Note: He despises abuses of the word as, as he continually reminds readers.) In the early sections, the author ignores traditional paragraphing so that the text resembles a long free-verse poem. He urges readers to use short, clear sentences and to make sure each one is healthy before moving on; notes that it’s acceptable to start sentences with and and but; sees benefits in diagramming sentences; stresses that all writing is revision; periodically blasts the formulaic writing that many (most?) students learn in school; argues that knowing where you’re headed before you begin might be good for a vacation, but not for a piece of writing; and believes that writers must trust readers more, and trust themselves. Most of Klinkenborg’s advice is neither radical nor especially profound (“Turn to the poets. / Learn from them”), and the text suffers from a corrosive fallacy: that if his strategies work for him they will work for all. The final fifth of the text includes some passages from writers he admires (McPhee, Oates, Cheever) and some of his students’ awkward sentences, which he treats analytically but sometimes with a surprising sarcasm that veers near meanness. He includes examples of students’ dangling modifiers, malapropisms, errors of pronoun agreement, wordiness and other mistakes.

Analyzing his craft, a careful craftsman urges with Thoreauvian conviction that writers should simplify, simplify, simplify.

Pub Date: Aug. 7, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-307-26634-7

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2012

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