A NEARLY NORMAL LIFE

A MEMOIR

Frank memoirs of an adolescence shaped by a bout with polio that changed forever the author’s body and psyche. This slice of very personal history comes from a man better known for his plays and his diplomatic and political writings (The End of Order: Versailles 1919, 1980, etc.). Mee was stricken with spinal polio in the summer of 1953, when he was 14 years old. From a healthy, athletic 160-pounder, he was rapidly transformed into a weak 90-pounder able to move only three fingers of one hand. Threaded through his recollections of his hospitalization and rehabilitation is a brief history of the disease, including a vivid portrait of the culture of fear it engendered, the role of Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis and the March of Dimes, Sister Kenny’s excruciating therapeutic techniques, and the search for vaccines by Jonas Salk and Albert Sabin. Even more fascinating are his accounts of the useless medical and surgical treatments performed by doctors anxious to do something, anything, for their young patients. The heart of Mee’s story, however, is his confrontation with the reality of what happened to him. Deeply ingrained with the ideal of the normal—he gives a wonderful picture of middle-American normality of the 1950s complete with paint-by-numbers art, Father Knows Best, and stay-at-home moms raising football-playing sons and cheerleader daughters—Mee could not deny his own deviance from that normality as he struggled to pass for a normal teenager. Fortunately, the world of books and the mind opened to him, and he pays tribute to those who helped him find his way there. Mee ends these memoirs with his leaving home for Harvard, but an epilogue provides a glimpse of the nearly normal life he created for himself in the years that followed. A reminder of a past era of conformity and a clear depiction of what it means to be an outsider.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-316-55852-4

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 1998

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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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