A moving, inspiring account of the indomitability of the human spirit.

Gift of Darkness


A heart-rending biography of a young teenager who lived under Nazi occupation in the Netherlands.

Robbert Van Santen, a Jewish young man growing up in Amsterdam during World War II, presciently interpreted Kristallnacht as an ominous portent of what was to come. Soon afterward, the Germans invaded his town, quickly forcing the Dutch military to surrender. Van Santen, a social worker who was once a schoolmate of Anne Frank, was given an exemption by the Nazis from prohibitive rules that would have greatly restricted his movement about the city. In exchange for that measure of liberty, however, he was witness to the chilling depredations man can heap upon man. He saw his neighbors gradually vanish, shuttled to concentration camps to labor and die. He witnessed a pregnant woman being summarily executed in a movie theater for her hysterical expression of grief. Eventually, Van Santen’s home was raided, and he fled to a distant town, finally going into hiding, and then joined the resistance movement. But even before he took up arms against the Nazis, he staunchly refused victimhood. Despite his parlous circumstances, he still sought out romance, like any teenager, and briefly found it, but his young love, too, was captured and deported. This biography, which covers Van Santen’s adolescence from ages 14 to 19, is based on conversations that he had with Comstock, a veteran writer (Global Partners: Citizen Exchange with the Soviet Union, 1987, etc.). Comstock composes the whole account in the first person, describing the nature of his exchange with Van Santen and their friendship. He also addresses the sheer terror that the Jewish people withstood, a trauma that haunted them in a way that mere physical wounds could not: “Anxiety about being betrayed or otherwise discovered is so intense that some Jews may feel it is almost less stressful to be caught; at least it would relieve the suspense.” The result is a gripping testimony not only to the dormant darkness that can be awakened in the hearts of men, but also the ways such darkness can be transformed into redemption.

A moving, inspiring account of the indomitability of the human spirit.

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 2015


Page Count: -

Publisher: Willow Press

Review Posted Online: Sept. 17, 2015

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.


The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

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More life reflections from the bestselling author on themes of societal captivity and the catharsis of personal freedom.

In her third book, Doyle (Love Warrior, 2016, etc.) begins with a life-changing event. “Four years ago,” she writes, “married to the father of my three children, I fell in love with a woman.” That woman, Abby Wambach, would become her wife. Emblematically arranged into three sections—“Caged,” “Keys,” “Freedom”—the narrative offers, among other elements, vignettes about the soulful author’s girlhood, when she was bulimic and felt like a zoo animal, a “caged girl made for wide-open skies.” She followed the path that seemed right and appropriate based on her Catholic upbringing and adolescent conditioning. After a downward spiral into “drinking, drugging, and purging,” Doyle found sobriety and the authentic self she’d been suppressing. Still, there was trouble: Straining an already troubled marriage was her husband’s infidelity, which eventually led to life-altering choices and the discovery of a love she’d never experienced before. Throughout the book, Doyle remains open and candid, whether she’s admitting to rigging a high school homecoming court election or denouncing the doting perfectionism of “cream cheese parenting,” which is about “giving your children the best of everything.” The author’s fears and concerns are often mirrored by real-world issues: gender roles and bias, white privilege, racism, and religion-fueled homophobia and hypocrisy. Some stories merely skim the surface of larger issues, but Doyle revisits them in later sections and digs deeper, using friends and familial references to personify their impact on her life, both past and present. Shorter pieces, some only a page in length, manage to effectively translate an emotional gut punch, as when Doyle’s therapist called her blooming extramarital lesbian love a “dangerous distraction.” Ultimately, the narrative is an in-depth look at a courageous woman eager to share the wealth of her experiences by embracing vulnerability and reclaiming her inner strength and resiliency.

Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-0125-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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