Though this book doesn’t quite live up to the genius of Blanche’s beloved Bach, it certainly strikes some lovely chords.


Blanche: World Class Musician, World Class Mother


Using music as metaphor, this loving biographical tribute offers advice on artistry and life.

Steinberg (The Social Work Student’s Research Handbook, 2004, etc.) had quite a mother: Blanche Moyse survived the Nazi occupation of France, poverty in Argentina and a legally treacherous journey to Vermont, where she led a chorale for years. Always close to Blanche, Steinberg cared for her mother in her twilight years, absorbing the wisdom and chutzpah of a woman who lived to be 100 years old but was adventurous enough to ride in a hot air balloon at 95. Steinberg applies her mother’s commentary on music and performance to everyday life, since “the wisdom shared with her artistic colleagues were the very same pearls she had shared with those who interacted with her intimately in everyday life. The metaphors were all musical,” Steinberg says, “but the sentiments were exactly the same.” Thus, each chapter’s theme is drawn from one of Blanche’s pearls of wisdom, such as: “I’m deaf, and you are (still) too loud.” Along with anecdotes from Blanche’s life, Steinberg describes ways we can all apply the musical lesson to everyday life, shortening the explanation to a single sentence or two, which she calls a “life lesson take-away.” Interspersed throughout are “intermezzos” (short lists of quotes from Blanche), “variations” (comments from Blanche to her chorale during her 40-year reign), photographs and captions. Though it’s immediately evident that Blanche was a remarkable woman with insightful commentary, this volume tends to be a bit scattered. At times, it resembles a family scrapbook instead of a narrative. The jumps back and forth between story and advice can be a bit jarring, which could be alleviated by separating the text into lengthier chunks and giving each tale a longer arc. Despite these organizational issues, Blanche shines through as a worthy central figure, and a second, more anecdotal biography about her long, rich life and career might also be a page-turner.

Though this book doesn’t quite live up to the genius of Blanche’s beloved Bach, it certainly strikes some lovely chords.

Pub Date: July 14, 2013

ISBN: 978-1490425665

Page Count: 144

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Dec. 17, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2014

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A vivid sequel that strains credulity.


Fremont (After Long Silence, 1999) continues—and alters—her story of how memories of the Holocaust affected her family.

At the age of 44, the author learned that her father had disowned her, declaring her “predeceased”—or dead in his eyes—in his will. It was his final insult: Her parents had stopped speaking to her after she’d published After Long Silence, which exposed them as Jewish Holocaust survivors who had posed as Catholics in Europe and America in order to hide multilayered secrets. Here, Fremont delves further into her tortured family dynamics and shows how the rift developed. One thread centers on her life after her harrowing childhood: her education at Wellesley and Boston University, the loss of her virginity to a college boyfriend before accepting her lesbianism, her stint with the Peace Corps in Lesotho, and her decades of work as a lawyer in Boston. Another strand involves her fraught relationship with her sister, Lara, and how their difficulties relate to their father, a doctor embittered after years in the Siberian gulag; and their mother, deeply enmeshed with her own sister, Zosia, who had married an Italian count and stayed in Rome to raise a child. Fremont tells these stories with novelistic flair, ending with a surprising theory about why her parents hid their Judaism. Yet she often appears insensitive to the serious problems she says Lara once faced, including suicidal depression. “The whole point of suicide, I thought, was to succeed at it,” she writes. “My sister’s completion rate was pathetic.” Key facts also differ from those in her earlier work. After Long Silence says, for example, that the author grew up “in a small city in the Midwest” while she writes here that she grew up in “upstate New York,” changes Fremont says she made for “consistency” in the new book but that muddy its narrative waters. The discrepancies may not bother readers seeking psychological insights rather than factual accuracy, but others will wonder if this book should have been labeled a fictionalized autobiography rather than a memoir.

A vivid sequel that strains credulity.

Pub Date: Feb. 11, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-982113-60-5

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Oct. 21, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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A miscellany of paternal pride (and frustration) darkened by the author’s increasing realizations of his mortality.


Ruminations and reminiscences of an author—now in his 70s—about fatherhood, writing, and death.

O’Brien (July, July, 2002, etc.), who achieved considerable literary fame with both Going After Cacciato (1978) and The Things They Carried (1990), returns with an eclectic assembly of pieces that grow increasingly valedictory as the idea of mortality creeps in. (The title comes from the author’s uncertainty about his ability to assemble these pieces in a single volume.) He begins and ends with a letter: The initial one is to his first son (from 2003); the terminal one, to his two sons, both of whom are now teens (the present). Throughout the book, there are a number of recurring sections: “Home School” (lessons for his sons to accomplish), “The Magic Show” (about his long interest in magic), and “Pride” (about his feelings for his sons’ accomplishments). O’Brien also writes often about his own father. One literary figure emerges as almost a member of the family: Ernest Hemingway. The author loves Hemingway’s work (except when he doesn’t) and often gives his sons some of Papa’s most celebrated stories to read and think and write about. Near the end is a kind of stand-alone essay about Hemingway’s writings about war and death, which O’Brien realizes is Hemingway’s real subject. Other celebrated literary figures pop up in the text, including Elizabeth Bishop, Andrew Marvell, George Orwell, and Flannery O’Connor. Although O’Brien’s strong anti-war feelings are prominent throughout, his principal interest is fatherhood—specifically, at becoming a father later in his life and realizing that he will miss so much of his sons’ lives. He includes touching and amusing stories about his toddler sons, about the sadness he felt when his older son became a teen and began to distance himself, and about his anguish when his sons failed at something.

A miscellany of paternal pride (and frustration) darkened by the author’s increasing realizations of his mortality.

Pub Date: Oct. 14, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-618-03970-8

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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