THE TULIP AND THE POPE

A NUN’S STORY

Poet and novelist Larsen (The White, 2002) recalls the years she spent in a Roman Catholic convent, and why she decided to leave.

It was 1960, just before Vatican II, when, at 19, Larsen entered the convent. Becoming a nun was the thing you did if you were a Catholic girl from Minnesota who didn’t think marriage looked all that great. And Larsen loved God; she wanted to give her life to Him. (“Why not dedicate yourself to Him as completely as you could? It was a cinch. Why didn’t millions of people do this every day,” the author remembers thinking.) Her portrait of the Iowa convent is loving and respectful. She eloquently describes its hushed silence; the young nuns’ lessons in walking correctly (just so, careful not to swing your arms too vigorously or wiggle your hips at all); the Gregorian chants that “loomed hugely in our lives”; the textbook instruction about sex, so the novices would know what they were giving up when they took the vow of chastity. Larsen decided to leave the order in 1965 because she had issues with the vow of obedience. In general, her superiors were fair, if stern; they did not order her to do mind-numbing make-work or insist she wear a hair shirt. But they did insist that she become an English teacher, and they didn’t always understand the poetry she wrote. She began to wonder if Mother Superior really did know best. Finally, she made the break, and her account of an older nun taking her to Marshall Field’s to buy a green knit suit for the occasion is priceless. A few minor flaws (Larsen sometimes overindulges in the oh-so-lofty second person) in an otherwise luminous account.

Lyrical, subtle memoir.

Pub Date: Sept. 6, 2005

ISBN: 0-375-41360-X

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2005

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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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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