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De Waal’s poetically recounted journey is a revelation, as well: of the power of obsession and the lust for purity.

A lyrical melding of art history, memoir, and philosophical meditation.

Ceramic artist de Waal (The Hare with Amber Eyes: A Family's Century of Art and Loss, 2010, etc.) is obsessed with white porcelain, “thin as silver…white as driven snow,” a material so exceptional that it invites comparison to “smoke coiling up from a chimney, or from incense on an altar, or mist from a valley.” Porcelain gets its quality from two kinds of mineral: petunse, a fairly common stone, which yields amazing translucence and hardness; and the rarer kaolin, a soft, white earth that imparts plasticity. In short passages of allusive, radiant prose, the author chronicles his journeys in search of both the materials and the history of porcelain, discovering along the way men as obsessed as he. In 14th-century China, the Yongle emperor coveted porcelains of the purest white—“white as transcendence,” de Waal writes—with finely drawn decorations under a lucent glaze. In 17th-century France, Louis XIV built the Trianon de Porcelaine, filled with Delft imitations until a porcelain industry began in Rouen, Saint-Cloud, and Limoges. In early-18th-century Germany, Ehrenfried Walther von Tschirnhaus, “philosopher and mathematician and observer of how the world changes,” pursued his investigations in Dresden’s Goldhaus, a laboratory for natural philosophers and alchemists. In Cornwall, the Quaker William Cookworthy and the enterprising Wedgwoods perfected porcelain manufacture. Shockingly, in 1940, the Allach Porcelain Factory moved to Dachau, where inmates made figurines beloved by Nazis. Amassing a cache of kaolin, each with idiosyncratic properties, de Waal created an installation of 2,455 porcelain pots, glazed in white. For the author, white has mystical resonance: “White is truth; it is the glowing cloud on the horizon that shows the Lord is coming. White is wisdom….White brings us all into focus….It reveals. It is Revelation itself.”

De Waal’s poetically recounted journey is a revelation, as well: of the power of obsession and the lust for purity.

Pub Date: Nov. 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-374-28926-3

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: July 14, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2015

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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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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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