While the memoir could use more literary flair, McIvor’s unique perspective as a cleareyed aid worker has value.

In the last of what he describes as a trilogy of memoirs, McIvor (In the Old Chief’s Country: My Life in Zimbabwe and Other Places, 2012, etc.) documents six years of his life in several countries where he has worked for Save the Children.

Here, the Scottish author chronicles his travels to Morocco, Haiti, and Cuba. McIvor pays less attention to his job than to his adventures in these foreign countries, where some of the observations he makes are deeper than those of the typical tourist—and others not. In Morocco, he felt oppressed by the constant presence of other people. In one of the few comic anecdotes in the book, he describes finding a pleasant, deserted beach to make his own only to realize that it was abandoned because it’s regularly patrolled by thieves, who efficiently stripped him of his valuables and then laughed at him when he refused to take their flip-flops to replace his athletic shoes on the long, rock-strewn journey back to his car. In Haiti, he was depressed by the overwhelming poverty and the environmental horrors caused by deforestation. In Cuba, he visited schools and talked with students, was the only tourist at a museum devoted to the invasion of the Bay of Pigs, and tried unsuccessfully to visit the U.S. base at Guantánamo. As a travel guide, the book is most valuable when it describes places most tourists wouldn’t get to see or evokes the tedium of living for long periods in a location that at first seems exotic. As a memoir, it’s oddly impersonal. The author gives little sense of the motivation behind his choices, and the transitions between one place and another are left undescribed. Attempts to re-create dialogue fall flat.

While the memoir could use more literary flair, McIvor’s unique perspective as a cleareyed aid worker has value.

Pub Date: Feb. 15, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-910124-34-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Dufour

Review Posted Online: Dec. 3, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2016


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



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

Close Quickview