Ackerman’s book is important for the guidance and hope it offers to stroke victims and their families, and it’s also a...

From prolific poet and essayist Ackerman (Dawn Light: Dancing with Cranes and Other Ways to Start the Day, 2009, etc.), a sensitive memoir about how her relationship with her husband, novelist Paul West, evolved in the aftermath of his stroke.

In one tragic moment, the author watched her husband go from a man with perhaps “one of the largest working vocabularies on earth” to one who could only utter one syllable: “mem.” With most of the language centers in West’s brain crippled, the prognosis for improvement was grim. Undaunted, Ackerman sought standard language-relearning therapies for her husband, which met with frustratingly limited success. Then she tried more unconventional approaches that encouraged West to express himself through circumlocution and creative wordplay. The author understood that her husband needed to be “cajoled, tempted, led out, absorbed in chatting about everyday things, and surrounded by people who talked slowly to him but normally to one another.” As West regained greater linguistic fluency, Ackerman encouraged him to dictate his stroke experiences to her. This project—which was later published in 2008 as The Shadow Factory—offered her husband a way to link the person he had become with the person he had been. It also allowed a glimpse into the extraordinary inner world West had developed as a result of his illness. Soon after the stroke, he claimed to hear three distinct “voices” belonging to, respectively, a BBC announcer, a “tongue-tied aphasic” and a “language-loving scribe with American turns of phrase.” Though initially doomed by doctors to a vegetative existence, West eventually recovered enough to resume his writing and lead a limited, though relatively normal life.

Ackerman’s book is important for the guidance and hope it offers to stroke victims and their families, and it’s also a satisfying, tender and humane celebration of love between two literary elites.

Pub Date: April 4, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-393-07241-9

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Dec. 29, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2011


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



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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