A rich life well deserving of reconsideration. Showalter provides a solid launching point.

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THE CIVIL WARS OF JULIA WARD HOWE

A BIOGRAPHY

An energetic new look at the author of the lyrics for “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” finds a modern feminist thread in the heroine’s frustrated marriage.

Accomplished women’s studies scholar and author Showalter (Emerita, English/Princeton Univ.; A Jury of Her Peers: American Women Writers from Anne Bradstreet to Annie Proulx, 2010, etc.) focuses on the unhappy marriage of New York heiress and bluestocking Julia Ward (1819-1910) to the crusading Boston doctor for the blind and handicapped, Samuel Howe, a union that lasted from 1843 until his death in 1876. Ward was a gifted singer and cultured young woman, and she fell for the handsome, moody “knight errant” Samuel despite early signs that he had a controlling, morose temper. The marriage grew increasingly strained through numerous pregnancies—unwanted by Howe, who yearned for an equitable, affectionate companion and dreaded the strictures of motherhood. Samuel, very much a man of his era, believed women should be completely fulfilled by domestic duties and motherhood and was no doubt bewildered and angry by Julia’s restlessness. Showalter can’t help that Howe comes across from her letters as whiny and spoiled and thus not a terribly sympathetic character. After refusing to come home to Boston from a trip to Rome, during which she plunged into her poetry and found her voice, she returned just ahead of a scandalous marital separation and was shocked by the tanned skin and “harsh voices” of the older children she had left behind. Readers may be shocked when reading about submission to her husband’s sexual will in order to avoid scandal (producing yet more children) and her inability to reveal to him her first book of poetry. The power struggle continued with her fame as the lyricist of the “Battle Hymn.” Still, Howe certainly came into her own in later years, embracing women’s suffrage and feminist causes, elements that the author might have dwelt more on.

A rich life well deserving of reconsideration. Showalter provides a solid launching point.

Pub Date: March 8, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-4516-4590-3

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Nov. 11, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2015

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An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

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BECOMING

The former first lady opens up about her early life, her journey to the White House, and the eight history-making years that followed.

It’s not surprising that Obama grew up a rambunctious kid with a stubborn streak and an “I’ll show you” attitude. After all, it takes a special kind of moxie to survive being the first African-American FLOTUS—and not only survive, but thrive. For eight years, we witnessed the adversity the first family had to face, and now we get to read what it was really like growing up in a working-class family on Chicago’s South Side and ending up at the world’s most famous address. As the author amply shows, her can-do attitude was daunted at times by racism, leaving her wondering if she was good enough. Nevertheless, she persisted, graduating from Chicago’s first magnet high school, Princeton, and Harvard Law School, and pursuing careers in law and the nonprofit world. With her characteristic candor and dry wit, she recounts the story of her fateful meeting with her future husband. Once they were officially a couple, her feelings for him turned into a “toppling blast of lust, gratitude, fulfillment, wonder.” But for someone with a “natural resistance to chaos,” being the wife of an ambitious politician was no small feat, and becoming a mother along the way added another layer of complexity. Throw a presidential campaign into the mix, and even the most assured woman could begin to crack under the pressure. Later, adjusting to life in the White House was a formidable challenge for the self-described “control freak”—not to mention the difficulty of sparing their daughters the ugly side of politics and preserving their privacy as much as possible. Through it all, Obama remained determined to serve with grace and help others through initiatives like the White House garden and her campaign to fight childhood obesity. And even though she deems herself “not a political person,” she shares frank thoughts about the 2016 election.

An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6313-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 30, 2018

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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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