A sincere but flawed recounting of a search for self-knowledge.

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THESE BOYS AND THEIR FATHERS

A MEMOIR

A father’s absence looms large in his son’s life.

Waters (Fiction Writing/Lewis & Clark Coll.; The Saints of Rattlesnake Mountain: Stories, 2017, etc.) makes his nonfiction debut with a frank, earnest memoir about his search for a father. Because he had no contact with his father growing up, the author felt bereft of the love and guidance that he envied in other father-son relationships. Being fatherless obsessed him: “Any man whose father leaves can understand the shame, confusion, and anger generated by such a primal loss.” Although he was hungry for answers about why his father left and stayed away, when his father unexpectedly sent him a brief autobiography, it took Waters years to finally read it because he was “frightened by what the pages might say about him or about me.” Surprised to discover that his father had been a surfer—a sport Waters himself loved—he decided to write a magazine article about surfing, imagining that researching and writing “could lead to something deeper, something important, and something curative.” The author’s need for healing led him to several failed attempts to write a memoir and also to undergo therapy for more than a decade, which he recounts in some verbatim conversations. When he suggested to his therapist that he should stop dwelling on his father and give up the memoir project, she dissuaded him. Unfortunately, writing as therapy may be more successful for the author than readers, who are confronted with too many assorted details and digressions: memories of various father figures, frustration about his writing, reflections on his relationship with his wife, their attempts to have a baby, his doubts about his own capacity to be a father, and a parallel story about another Don Waters, a sailor and writer born in the late 1800s whose family life provides a useful reality check on the author’s own illusions. “It’s a great example,” he tells his therapist, “that no matter how someone’s life looks from the outside, no one’s life is ever perfect.”

A sincere but flawed recounting of a search for self-knowledge.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-60938-679-5

Page Count: 230

Publisher: Univ. of Iowa

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

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BECOMING

The former first lady opens up about her early life, her journey to the White House, and the eight history-making years that followed.

It’s not surprising that Obama grew up a rambunctious kid with a stubborn streak and an “I’ll show you” attitude. After all, it takes a special kind of moxie to survive being the first African-American FLOTUS—and not only survive, but thrive. For eight years, we witnessed the adversity the first family had to face, and now we get to read what it was really like growing up in a working-class family on Chicago’s South Side and ending up at the world’s most famous address. As the author amply shows, her can-do attitude was daunted at times by racism, leaving her wondering if she was good enough. Nevertheless, she persisted, graduating from Chicago’s first magnet high school, Princeton, and Harvard Law School, and pursuing careers in law and the nonprofit world. With her characteristic candor and dry wit, she recounts the story of her fateful meeting with her future husband. Once they were officially a couple, her feelings for him turned into a “toppling blast of lust, gratitude, fulfillment, wonder.” But for someone with a “natural resistance to chaos,” being the wife of an ambitious politician was no small feat, and becoming a mother along the way added another layer of complexity. Throw a presidential campaign into the mix, and even the most assured woman could begin to crack under the pressure. Later, adjusting to life in the White House was a formidable challenge for the self-described “control freak”—not to mention the difficulty of sparing their daughters the ugly side of politics and preserving their privacy as much as possible. Through it all, Obama remained determined to serve with grace and help others through initiatives like the White House garden and her campaign to fight childhood obesity. And even though she deems herself “not a political person,” she shares frank thoughts about the 2016 election.

An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6313-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 30, 2018

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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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