In 2004, fascinated by the Berlin Wall, 12-year-old Louis peppered his father with questions about it. As this poignant book...

WHO KILLED MY FATHER

A memoir implicates French politicians in the suffering of its citizens.

When he was growing up, Louis (History of Violence, 2018, etc.) didn’t get along with his father. The patriarch lived by a simple creed: “be a man, don’t act like a girl, don’t be a faggot.” Surprising words for young Louis, who is gay, to hear, even more so given that a man who would “sneer at any sign of femininity in a man” once dressed as a cheerleader and cried while watching opera. A détente began when the author’s father was injured at the factory where he worked. Something heavy fell on him and “mangled” his back, and he was so weak that he got winded walking to the bathroom. Most of the book focuses on Louis’ relationship with his father, but then, in an abrupt shift, the author spends the last 15 pages enumerating policies that he argues have emasculated his father and worsened life for France’s poorest citizens. Sometimes, the author’s attempts to connect his family’s tragedy to world events go too far, such as when he invokes concentration camps. More relevant are his critiques of French politicians: former President Jacques Chirac’s announcement “that dozens of medications would no longer be covered by the state”; former President Nicolas Sarkozy’s change to basic unemployment benefits that forced Louis’ father to take jobs such as street sweeper; and the current president, Emmanuel Macron, who cut 5 euros per month from the subsidy that allows France’s poor to pay their rent while he cut taxes for the wealthy. Whatever one’s politics, readers of this impassioned work are likely to be moved by the Louis family’s plight and the love, however strained, between the author and his father.

In 2004, fascinated by the Berlin Wall, 12-year-old Louis peppered his father with questions about it. As this poignant book shows, there are still walls—within families, between leaders and citizens—that need to be torn down.

Pub Date: March 26, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-8112-2850-3

Page Count: 92

Publisher: New Directions

Review Posted Online: Dec. 11, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2019

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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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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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