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PENINSULA OF LIES

A TRUE STORY OF MYSTERIOUS BIRTH AND TABOO LOVE

Were it not for the risqué subject matter and the absence of a blue roadster, this piffle might well be a Nancy Drew called...

National Book Award–winner Ball (Slaves in the Family, 1998) returns with a silly, salacious story of sexual identity and interracial marriage.

A young Englishman living in Charleston, South Carolina, Gordon Hall in the late 1960s underwent sex-change surgery, became Dawn Hall, married a black man named John-Paul Simmons, then claimed she was pregnant and subsequently produced a baby named Natasha she said she’d delivered in 1971. Dawn Simmons published some celebrity biographies (Princess Margaret, Lady Bird Johnson) and a memoir; for a while she enjoyed a sordid sort of tabloid celebrity. She died, virtually unknown, in 2000. As Gordon Hall, he had ingratiated himself with Isabel Whitney and inherited from her a sizable sum (perhaps as much as a million dollars), then moved to Charleston to set himself up as an antiques dealer and subsequently to become the woman he said he always had been. Gradually the money vanished. For some unimaginable reason, author Ball decided this was a story worth his talents and so traveled all over America and England to interview people who knew Simmons and to stand at the sacred shrines of his/her nativity, childhood, youth, and so on. The author writes of this with enormous gravity, as if he were investigating the identity of Shakespeare or identifying pieces of the True Cross, but his only real questions are: What plumbing did Simmons have? (Male.) Where did the baby come from? (She bought it.) The writing is banal by every measure. Hall offers formulaic head-to-toe descriptions of every person he interviews, he tries to leave the reader hanging at the end of each chapter, and he fashions sentences that seem lifted from bad YA mysteries (“I had a hunch the place might hold some clues”).

Were it not for the risqué subject matter and the absence of a blue roadster, this piffle might well be a Nancy Drew called The Mystery of the Curious Plumbing. (45 b&w photos)

Pub Date: March 1, 2004

ISBN: 0-7432-3560-6

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2004

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NIGHT

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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INTO THE WILD

A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor...

The excruciating story of a young man on a quest for knowledge and experience, a search that eventually cooked his goose, told with the flair of a seasoned investigative reporter by Outside magazine contributing editor Krakauer (Eiger Dreams, 1990). 

Chris McCandless loved the road, the unadorned life, the Tolstoyan call to asceticism. After graduating college, he took off on another of his long destinationless journeys, this time cutting all contact with his family and changing his name to Alex Supertramp. He was a gent of strong opinions, and he shared them with those he met: "You must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life''; "be nomadic.'' Ultimately, in 1992, his terms got him into mortal trouble when he ran up against something—the Alaskan wild—that didn't give a hoot about Supertramp's worldview; his decomposed corpse was found 16 weeks after he entered the bush. Many people felt McCandless was just a hubris-laden jerk with a death wish (he had discarded his map before going into the wild and brought no food but a bag of rice). Krakauer thought not. Admitting an interest that bordered on obsession, he dug deep into McCandless's life. He found a willful, reckless, moody boyhood; an ugly little secret that sundered the relationship between father and son; a moral absolutism that agitated the young man's soul and drove him to extremes; but he was no more a nutcase than other pilgrims. Writing in supple, electric prose, Krakauer tries to make sense of McCandless (while scrupulously avoiding off-the-rack psychoanalysis): his risky behavior and the rites associated with it, his asceticism, his love of wide open spaces, the flights of his soul.

A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor will it to readers of Krakauer's narrative. (4 maps) (First printing of 35,000; author tour)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-42850-X

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Villard

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1995

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