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A playful illumination of the complexities, mysteries and absurdities of an obscure French organization devoted to “potential literature.”

Serious wordplay abounds within the experiments of the Oulipo, a Paris-based collective devoted to systematic literary exploration, constraints that free the mind and imagination (such as writing a novel without using the letter e), and devising “real solutions to imaginary problems.” The organization’s pantheon includes Raymond Queneau, Italo Calvino and Georges Perec, while fellow travelers could range from Vladimir Nabokov to Paul Auster. Much of the writing focuses on the processes of writing and reading while an emphasis on language as language trumps such conventional notions of “realism” in character and plot. Words on a page may not be more, but they are never less, than words on a page. American author Becker served an apprenticeship as an archivist before joining the organization in which “anyone who asks to be a member of the Oulipo thereupon becomes inadmissible for life.” The author is also the reviews editor for The Believer, and his self-deprecating reminiscences humanize the book well beyond literary theory, while his tone renders even extended examinations of the organization’s theories and history more palatable than expected. One work is praised for the “Zen-by-way-of-Kafka simplicity of its zero-sum goal,” while the masters rise above mere experimentation: “Like Perec, Calvino was great at bringing humanity into what could otherwise be a soulless structural shell game.” There is a strong mathematical, even scientific, component within the philosophies of these theorist-practitioners, whose field of inquiry (like so much else) has been transformed by computer technology. But there’s also a disarming element of whimsy: “Like any literary treatises worth their salt, the manifestos are unsatisfying; their saving grace is [their]…tongue-in-cheek attitude toward the notion of the manifesto in the first place.” Destined to delight a small, select readership—the Oulipo wouldn’t have it any other way.


Pub Date: April 24, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-674-06577-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Harvard Univ.

Review Posted Online: Feb. 28, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2012

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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

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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

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