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A DISAPPEARANCE IN DAMASCUS

FRIENDSHIP AND SURVIVAL IN THE SHADOW OF WAR

In the stormwater’s swirl, Campbell has found a bright and tender leaf to follow, and the effect on readers will be...

A Canadian journalist covering the plight of Iraqis who fled to Syria a decade ago enlists the help of an Iraqi woman in Damascus—friendship and disaster ensue.

In 2007, Campbell (Creative Writing/Univ. of British Columbia), a three-time National Magazine Award winner for foreign correspondence, was working on a major story for Harper’s about Iraqi refugees when she first made contact with Ahlam, an Iraqi woman who served as her “fixer” (one who clears paths for journalists). Their professional relationship soon grew personal, and the author chronicles what went well and what went terribly wrong. Told principally in the first person, Campbell’s story includes not only her stark and frightening experiences in Damascus, but also her fracturing love life back home as well as background on the Iraq War and ensuing civil war and the frangible stability in Syria, the only country to accept large numbers of Iraqi refugees. As she worked on her story, Campbell’s friendship with Ahlam flourished and continued when the author left the country. Then Campbell found out that Ahlam had been arrested. The author, feeling profound guilt (was it because of her?), employed numerous strategies to find out why she was arrested, where she was being held, and what the charges were. Campbell’s text races along—catching readers’ hearts as it goes—and after the arrest, the author includes sections of “Ahlam’s Story,” grim third-person accounts about the experience of prison: deprivation, interrogations, violence, and terror. These sections increase the tension in readers, who have known since the beginning that dark things were on the way. The author sometimes veers a little toward the melodramatic near the ends of chapters, but it’s a small quibble in a powerful book.

In the stormwater’s swirl, Campbell has found a bright and tender leaf to follow, and the effect on readers will be transformative.

Pub Date: Sept. 5, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-250-14787-5

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Picador

Review Posted Online: May 27, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2017

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NIGHT

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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THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS

FROM MEAN STREETS TO WALL STREET

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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