LOST IN AMERICA

A DEAD-END JOURNEY

Life derails a commissioned meditation on Kerouac from a young American writer.

On assignment from his publishers to reappraise On the Road in the age of Obama, Buzzell (My War: Killing Time in Iraq, 2005) admits that while he adored Kerouac as a teenager and has several copies of the book, including a first edition, after a tour in Iraq, he had lost his passion for it. More to the point, he was distracted by two personal events: his mother’s terminal illness and the birth of his son. At loose ends, in mourning and frankly wanting to postpone the responsibilities of married life and fatherhood, Buzzell decided to make a journey all his own, starting in San Francisco and following his whims to discover America on his own terms. His travels took him to Salt Lake City, Cheyenne, Denver, Omaha, Des Moines and, most enduringly (and endearingly) to Detroit before he winding up almost by chance in New York City. Along the way, he drove and lost money on an ice-cream truck, cleared land with a chainsaw for a new Safeway, sold used items at a Salvation Army and engaged in a lot of drinking and spending time in flophouses, his preferred mode of lodging. For nearly half the book, the narrative is as rootless and random as the author’s wanderings at first. Buzzell was amusingly unimpressed with himself, and he lets the reader in on his self-doubts about the project at hand every step of the way. It’s only in Detroit, where he openly assumed the role of writer, that he truly found his footing as a witty, fearless, sharp-eyed chronicler of America in decline. Time, Inc.’s purchase of a “safe house” in an upper-class enclave for its reporters to cover Detroit’s devastation reminds him of Baghdad’s Green Zone, where American reporters idled in high style between jaunts into the wrecked city to cover the war. Besides being intensely self-aware, Buzzell exhibits a Henry Miller–like talent for the memorable character sketch, and Detroit gives him plenty of subjects. A slow starter with a strong finish.

 

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-06-184135-4

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2011

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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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