A riveting, radical, essential revision of the stories we all know—and some we don't.

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PEOPLE LOVE DEAD JEWS

REPORTS FROM A HAUNTED PRESENT

A guided tour of the hypocrisy that serves as the mechanism by which antisemitism rages on unchecked.

The cold fury and in-your-face phrasing of the title of acclaimed novelist Horn's essay collection sets the tone for this brilliantly readable yet purposefully disturbing book. In the first chapter, "Everyone's (Second) Favorite Dead Jew"—presumably Jesus Christ is No. 1—Horn looks at Anne Frank, who the author believes would never have been so beloved had she survived. At the heart of Frank's myth is a passage from her diary that reads, "I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart." As Horn points out, Frank was less than a month from meeting people who surely convinced her that she was wrong. The author ranges widely: the mythology of Ellis Island; the marketing of the Jewish history of Harbin, China (why call it "Property Seized from Dead or Expelled Jews" when you can call it a "Jewish Heritage Site”?); and the problematic elements of Holocaust museums and exhibits. Since these museums have not stopped people hating or killing Jews, wonders the author, what is the point of recalling the operation of the genocide at a “granular” level? Readers will be enthralled throughout by the fierce logic of Horn's arguments, novelty of research, black humor, and sharp phrasing. Particularly affecting is "Commuting With Shylock," in which Horn describes how she listened to an audio version of The Merchant of Venice with her precocious 10-year-old son, stopping frequently to explain key points. His clarity about the meaning of the "prick us, do we not bleed" speech is a revelation. Though Horn briefly mentions Zionism as a key aspect of Jewish heritage, one subject not discussed here is how the complex situation in the Middle East—characterized by dead Jews and dead Palestinians—fits into her analysis.

A riveting, radical, essential revision of the stories we all know—and some we don't.

Pub Date: Sept. 7, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-393-53156-5

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: June 29, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2021

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A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.

HAPPY-GO-LUCKY

Sedaris remains stubbornly irreverent even in the face of pandemic lockdowns and social upheaval.

In his previous collection of original essays, Calypso (2018), the author was unusually downbeat, fixated on aging and the deaths of his mother and sister. There’s bad news in this book, too—most notably, the death of his problematic and seemingly indestructible father at 96—but Sedaris generally carries himself more lightly. On a trip to a gun range, he’s puzzled by boxer shorts with a holster feature, which he wishes were called “gunderpants.” He plays along with nursing-home staffers who, hearing a funnyman named David is on the premises, think he’s Dave Chappelle. He’s bemused by his sister Amy’s landing a new apartment to escape her territorial pet rabbit. On tour, he collects sheaves of off-color jokes and tales of sexual self-gratification gone wrong. His relationship with his partner, Hugh, remains contentious, but it’s mellowing. (“After thirty years, sleeping is the new having sex.”) Even more serious stuff rolls off him. Of Covid-19, he writes that “more than eight hundred thousand people have died to date, and I didn’t get to choose a one of them.” The author’s support of Black Lives Matter is tempered by his interest in the earnest conscientiousness of organizers ensuring everyone is fed and hydrated. (He refers to one such person as a “snacktivist.”) Such impolitic material, though, puts serious essays in sharper, more powerful relief. He recalls fending off the flirtations of a 12-year-old boy in France, frustrated by the language barrier and other factors that kept him from supporting a young gay man. His father’s death unlocks a crushing piece about dad’s inappropriate, sexualizing treatment of his children. For years—chronicled in many books—Sedaris labored to elude his father’s criticism. Even in death, though, it proves hard to escape or laugh off.

A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.

Pub Date: May 31, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-316-39245-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: March 11, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2022

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A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

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WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

A neurosurgeon with a passion for literature tragically finds his perfect subject after his diagnosis of terminal lung cancer.

Writing isn’t brain surgery, but it’s rare when someone adept at the latter is also so accomplished at the former. Searching for meaning and purpose in his life, Kalanithi pursued a doctorate in literature and had felt certain that he wouldn’t enter the field of medicine, in which his father and other members of his family excelled. “But I couldn’t let go of the question,” he writes, after realizing that his goals “didn’t quite fit in an English department.” “Where did biology, morality, literature and philosophy intersect?” So he decided to set aside his doctoral dissertation and belatedly prepare for medical school, which “would allow me a chance to find answers that are not in books, to find a different sort of sublime, to forge relationships with the suffering, and to keep following the question of what makes human life meaningful, even in the face of death and decay.” The author’s empathy undoubtedly made him an exceptional doctor, and the precision of his prose—as well as the moral purpose underscoring it—suggests that he could have written a good book on any subject he chose. Part of what makes this book so essential is the fact that it was written under a death sentence following the diagnosis that upended his life, just as he was preparing to end his residency and attract offers at the top of his profession. Kalanithi learned he might have 10 years to live or perhaps five. Should he return to neurosurgery (he could and did), or should he write (he also did)? Should he and his wife have a baby? They did, eight months before he died, which was less than two years after the original diagnosis. “The fact of death is unsettling,” he understates. “Yet there is no other way to live.”

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular clarity.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8840-6

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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