A pitiless, steely narrative, alternately heartbreaking and compelling.

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THE DAY NINA SIMONE STOPPED SINGING

The story of one woman’s reckless and liberated adolescence in the brutal atmosphere of 1970s and ’80s Beirut.

Al-Joundi’s upbringing was unusual. She was raised by an irreverent, politically outspoken and determinedly secular intellectual father, who, on his daughter’s eighth birthday, got her drunk on a good bottle of Bordeaux. He taught her that bras were symbols of oppression, bribed her into giving up a fledgling effort to keep Ramadan with a shot of whiskey and celebrated her growing sexual promiscuity, offering the scandalous paternal dictum: “never offer your ass up to the sky. Offer it to men as much as you want, but not to the good Lord. You may drink, go out, lose your virginity, but…in my house I don’t ever want to see anyone pray or fast.” The story also widens to take in the scope of the larger cultural moment: the family’s exile in Baghdad and return to Beirut, Al-Joundi’s drug addiction and the years of anonymous sex, the cruelty of war and the omnipresence of death seen through the eyes of a precocious young woman rendered entirely unfit for the world she inhabited. The book begins with her father making her promise that at his funeral no one will read from the Koran, but play Nina Simone’s “Sinnerman” instead. When Al-Joundi keeps that promise, the result is a series of staggeringly cruel betrayals, described in prose that is beautifully taut and relentlessly unemotional.

A pitiless, steely narrative, alternately heartbreaking and compelling.

Pub Date: March 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-1-55861-683-7

Page Count: 144

Publisher: Feminist Press

Review Posted Online: Jan. 8, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 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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