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Both the incisiveness and the perspective—of a civilian professor and the military students she loves and mourns—enrich...

A singular mix of literary criticism and memoir from a West Point English professor who helps plebes mold the mindset that prepares future officers for war.

Samet (Soldier's Heart: Reading Literature Through Peace and War at West Point2007) began teaching the freshman literature course at West Point in 1997 and considers this “the most important trust I have been given in my professional life.” Throughout this book, she mediates between the universality of great literature—and popular culture in general—and the specific psychic demands placed on the military, not only in combat, but in re-entry to civilian life. In the process, she encompasses everything from the Odyssey and Shakespeare to War and Peace to Catch-22 (which she initially loved but found harder to read the more experience she had with former students dying in battle), with side excursions into baseball, boxing and motorcycle gangs. She explains how the latter arose in the aftermath of World War II, from vets who had difficulty adjusting to the routines of domesticity. She quotes one former student–turned-biker on the sensation of “being in control and out of control simultaneously. On the very razor’s edge….It’s that same…feeling that follows you everywhere in a combat zone.” The title refers to, among other things, the transition by soldiers coming home who have yet to leave the war behind—“a terrain that seems as strange as it ever was: a no man’s land peopled by ghosts yet by the living, too. War vertigo is the order of the day….” This is a book about narrative, about the stories we tell ourselves to make sense of our lives, about the revisions we make when those stories no longer cohere, about endings that don’t provide resolution, let alone the cliché of closure.

Both the incisiveness and the perspective—of a civilian professor and the military students she loves and mourns—enrich readers’ appreciation for the psychological complexities of war and its aftermath.

Pub Date: Nov. 4, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-374-22277-2

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Sept. 12, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2014

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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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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

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