Emotion and reflection contend for prominence with superficiality; the former win, but barely.

The octogenarian Irish novelist, playwright, poet, biographer (and more) revisits her rich and sometimes rowdy life.

The best sections of this episodic memoir are the first and final quarters of the text. In the first, O’Brien (Saints and Sinners, 2011, etc.) writes affectingly of her girlhood—her memories of being attacked by an ill-tempered dog, of playing with dolls in her dining room, and of discovering and nurturing her interest in literature and writing. “The words ran away with me,” she writes. She worked in a pharmacy in Dublin but soon fled when the seductions of sex and literature and celebrity whispered that she could have a very different life than the one she was experiencing. Her account of her marriage to writer Ernest Gébler is grim and often depressing (understatement: he was not happy about her literary success), but she eventually left him, battled for custody of her children (she eventually won) and soared off into celebrity, a state that consumes the middle—and weakest—sections of the book. She seems determined to list every famous person she encountered, and the roster seems endless—John Osborne, Robert Mitchum, Paul McCartney, R.D. Laing (who became her therapist), Harold Pinter, Gore Vidal (she stayed at his Italian villa), Arthur Schlesinger and Norman Mailer. On and on go the names, a virtual phone book of the famous. These sections are mere molecules on the surface of some much deeper issues that she neglects. In the final quarter, O’Brien returns to some effective ruminations about finding a place that’s “home” and about feeling mortal—even old (an encounter with Jude Law is poignant). Near the end, she revisits her abandoned girlhood home, drifting through it and remembering.

Emotion and reflection contend for prominence with superficiality; the former win, but barely.

Pub Date: April 30, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-316-12270-2

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013



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

Close Quickview