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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller


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

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

Did you like this book?

A declaration worth hearing out in a time of growing inequality—and indignity.


Noted number cruncher Sperling delivers an economist’s rejoinder to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Former director of the National Economic Council in the administrations of Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, the author has long taken a view of the dismal science that takes economic justice fully into account. Alongside all the metrics and estimates and reckonings of GDP, inflation, and the supply curve, he holds the great goal of economic policy to be the advancement of human dignity, a concept intangible enough to chase the econometricians away. Growth, the sacred mantra of most economic policy, “should never be considered an appropriate ultimate end goal” for it, he counsels. Though 4% is the magic number for annual growth to be considered healthy, it is healthy only if everyone is getting the benefits and not just the ultrawealthy who are making away with the spoils today. Defining dignity, admits Sperling, can be a kind of “I know it when I see it” problem, but it does not exist where people are a paycheck away from homelessness; the fact, however, that people widely share a view of indignity suggests the “intuitive universality” of its opposite. That said, the author identifies three qualifications, one of them the “ability to meaningfully participate in the economy with respect, not domination and humiliation.” Though these latter terms are also essentially unquantifiable, Sperling holds that this respect—lack of abuse, in another phrasing—can be obtained through a tight labor market and monetary and fiscal policy that pushes for full employment. In other words, where management needs to come looking for workers, workers are likely to be better treated than when the opposite holds. In still other words, writes the author, dignity is in part a function of “ ‘take this job and shove it’ power,” which is a power worth fighting for.

A declaration worth hearing out in a time of growing inequality—and indignity.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7987-5

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 26, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet