Wrenching human drama, bogged down in a plethora of details that often make for tedious reading.

ASYLUM DENIED

A REFUGEE’S STRUGGLE FOR SAFETY IN AMERICA

A dismaying account of bureaucracy at its red-tape-bound worst.

Kenney, who was imprisoned and tortured for leading a tea farmer’s protest in Kenya, was fortunate to be befriended by generous Peace Corps workers, who helped get him out of Kenya and to the United States on a basketball scholarship in 1995. He was also fortunate to meet Schrag, who heads Georgetown University’s Center for Applied Legal Studies, an organization that helps asylum seekers. Schrag provides an introduction that explains how the co-authors worked together to present the story from Kenney’s point of view. Kenney accumulated mountains of paperwork and endured countless frustrations as he worked his way through a labyrinth of federal courts and other government agencies, struggling to comply with complex rules and regulations while pleading his case before seemingly arbitrary, sometimes openly hostile officials. Facing deportation in 2004, he left for Africa, where he was captured and nearly killed by rebel forces in Tanzania. Bribery was a standard part of nearly every transaction, but after extraordinary difficulties with an epithet-spouting official at the U.S. consulate, he succeeded in getting an immigrant visa and returned to his pregnant wife in America. The authors make clear that the odds are against asylum seekers, especially since 9/11. Each has his own epilogue: Kenney’s is deeply personal, Schrag’s is a lawyerly analysis of what’s wrong with the way the United States treats immigrants and how the system could be improved.

Wrenching human drama, bogged down in a plethora of details that often make for tedious reading.

Pub Date: May 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-520-25510-4

Page Count: 290

Publisher: Univ. of California

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2008

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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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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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