A solid contribution to a rising genre: the noncombatant’s war memoir.

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COMING BACK

DIARY OF A MISSION TO AFGHANISTAN

Tough travels in a religion-haunted, ruined land.

There are three phrases, writes Italian novelist and poet Albinati, that a humanitarian aid worker in Afghanistan needs to know how to say in both Dari and Pashto, the country’s major languages: “I am a good man. I work for the UN. Please do not kill me.” Not that Albinati, to judge by this journal of three months in the field in the spring and summer of 2002, is often in danger of being killed by an assailant close enough to speak to; mostly, whether tucked away in a crummy hotel room in Kabul or roaming from town to town in a UN truck, he’s imperiled by rockets and mortars fired from afar. He faces other dangers: the strong desire to take up smoking again after having quit a dozen years earlier, the temptation to drink too much scotch (“Three glasses is the right number, the perfect number to get rid of the day’s rage without ending up completely wrecked”). In between trying to suggest ways to impose order on chaos—Albinati allows that, if elected mayor of the bombed-out capital, the first thing he’d do “would be to give every street in Kabul a name and put up a sign, so that everyone would have an address, even the prefabs, the shanty towns, the muddy open spaces, the heaps of stones”—and conduct a census of the countryside (involving, among other things, counting sheep), Albinati marvels at the resilience of the Afghan people and their capacity to endure what would have broken just about any Westerner. Some of his journal entries are oddly mundane (as when he watches Disney’s Jungle Book, humming the Italian version of “The Bare Necessities” to himself), while others are thoughtful and moving, as when he writes of the lives of street children: “What they want more than anything else is to play.”

A solid contribution to a rising genre: the noncombatant’s war memoir.

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 2004

ISBN: 1-84391-904-4

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Hesperus/Trafalgar

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2004

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No one’s mind will be changed by Karl’s book, but it’s a valuable report from the scene of an ongoing train wreck.

FRONT ROW AT THE TRUMP SHOW

The chief White House and Washington correspondent for ABC provides a ringside seat to a disaster-ridden Oval Office.

It is Karl to whom we owe the current popularity of a learned Latin term. Questioning chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, he followed up a perhaps inadvertently honest response on the matter of Ukrainian intervention in the electoral campaign by saying, “What you just described is a quid pro quo.” Mulvaney’s reply: “Get over it.” Karl, who has been covering Trump for decades and knows which buttons to push and which to avoid, is not inclined to get over it: He rightly points out that a reporter today “faces a president who seems to have no appreciation or understanding of the First Amendment and the role of a free press in American democracy.” Yet even against a bellicose, untruthful leader, he adds, the press “is not the opposition party.” The author, who keeps his eye on the subject and not in the mirror, writes of Trump’s ability to stage situations, as when he once called Trump out, at an event, for misrepresenting poll results and Trump waited until the camera was off before exploding, “Fucking nasty guy!”—then finished up the interview as if nothing had happened. Trump and his inner circle are also, by Karl’s account, masters of timing, matching negative news such as the revelation that Russia had interfered in the 2016 election with distractions away from Trump—in this case, by pushing hard on the WikiLeaks emails from the Democratic campaign, news of which arrived at the same time. That isn’t to say that they manage people or the nation well; one of the more damning stories in a book full of them concerns former Homeland Security head Kirstjen Nielsen, cut off at the knees even while trying to do Trump’s bidding.

No one’s mind will be changed by Karl’s book, but it’s a valuable report from the scene of an ongoing train wreck.

Pub Date: March 31, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5247-4562-2

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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Dramatic, immersive, and wanting—much like desire itself.

THREE WOMEN

Based on eight years of reporting and thousands of hours of interaction, a journalist chronicles the inner worlds of three women’s erotic desires.

In her dramatic debut about “what longing in America looks like,” Taddeo, who has contributed to Esquire, Elle, and other publications, follows the sex lives of three American women. On the surface, each woman’s story could be a soap opera. There’s Maggie, a teenager engaged in a secret relationship with her high school teacher; Lina, a housewife consumed by a torrid affair with an old flame; and Sloane, a wealthy restaurateur encouraged by her husband to sleep with other people while he watches. Instead of sensationalizing, the author illuminates Maggie’s, Lina’s, and Sloane’s erotic experiences in the context of their human complexities and personal histories, revealing deeper wounds and emotional yearnings. Lina’s infidelity was driven by a decade of her husband’s romantic and sexual refusal despite marriage counseling and Lina's pleading. Sloane’s Fifty Shades of Grey–like lifestyle seems far less exotic when readers learn that she has felt pressured to perform for her husband's pleasure. Taddeo’s coverage is at its most nuanced when she chronicles Maggie’s decision to go to the authorities a few years after her traumatic tryst. Recounting the subsequent trial against Maggie’s abuser, the author honors the triumph of Maggie’s courageous vulnerability as well as the devastating ramifications of her community’s disbelief. Unfortunately, this book on “female desire” conspicuously omits any meaningful discussion of social identities beyond gender and class; only in the epilogue does Taddeo mention race and its impacts on women's experiences with sex and longing. Such oversight brings a palpable white gaze to the narrative. Compounded by the author’s occasionally lackluster prose, the book’s flaws compete with its meaningful contribution to #MeToo–era reporting.

Dramatic, immersive, and wanting—much like desire itself.

Pub Date: July 9, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4516-4229-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Avid Reader Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2019

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