STEALING THE BORDERS

A wry autobiography traces the tragicomic odyssey of a Polish-American Jew whose search for identity equally embraced both self-reliance and absurd humor.

If Rais’ autobiography were adapted for film, Woody Allen would be perfect for the starring role. Like the filmmaker, Rais transforms actual life experiences into poignant comic vignettes that touch on everyday absurdities. Unlike Allen, Rais was born in 1940s Poland, where his family was forced to flee their Eastern Polish homeland for Russia just in advance of Nazi troops. After experiencing political persecution, his family fled Russia, ending up in a DP (displaced persons) camp in Germany. Rais describes the six years he and his family endured the many privations of the DP camp. However, it was in this place where his bountiful ingenuity and sense of offbeat humor began to thrive. After finally being able to immigrate to America, Rais again used his humor to help him adjust to the savage inequities facing a Jewish youth in the rough-and-tumble atmosphere of blue-collar New York City. Peppering this Jewish Horatio Alger story of a self-educated, strong-willed, high-tech engineer who transitioned to careers in construction entrepreneurship and teaching are clusters of hilarious tales focusing on Rais’ obsessions. He’s constantly delighted and mystified by the sexual wiles of women and consistently skeptical about the reality of a “just God,” and he affirms the healing power of laughter in the face of stress and loss at every eventful turn in his life. His obsessions never become tiresome to read, however, as Rais writes in a folksy, conversational style bordering on inspired comedic improvisation. The author’s odyssey dramatizes his sense of Jewish identity through Jewish culture and ethnic heritage, rather than through any spiritual devotion to Judaism as a religious practice. Anyone charmed by the humor of Woody Allen or Mel Brooks will be entertained and heartened by Rais’ autobiography.

 

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2012

ISBN: 978-1467901574

Page Count: 291

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2012

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An eye-opening glimpse into the attempted self-unmaking of one of Hollywood’s most recognizable talents.

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The debut memoir from the pop and fashion star.

Early on, Simpson describes the book she didn’t write: “a motivational manual telling you how to live your best life.” Though having committed to the lucrative deal years before, she “walked away,” fearing any sort of self-help advice she might give would be hypocritical. Outwardly, Simpson was at the peak of her success, with her fashion line generating “one billion dollars in annual sales.” However, anxiety was getting the better of her, and she admits she’d become a “feelings addict,” just needing “enough noise to distract me from the pain I’d been avoiding since childhood. The demons of traumatic abuse that refused to let me sleep at night—Tylenol PM at age twelve, red wine and Ambien as a grown, scared woman. Those same demons who perched on my shoulder, and when they saw a man as dark as them, leaned in to my ear to whisper, ‘Just give him your light. See if it saves him…’ ” On Halloween 2017, Simpson hit rock bottom, and, with the intervention of her devoted friends and husband, began to address her addictions and underlying fears. In this readable but overlong narrative, the author traces her childhood as a Baptist preacher’s daughter moving 18 times before she “hit fifth grade,” and follows her remarkable rise to fame as a singer. She reveals the psychological trauma resulting from years of sexual abuse by a family friend, experiences that drew her repeatedly into bad relationships with men, most publicly with ex-husband Nick Lachey. Admitting that she was attracted to the validating power of an audience, Simpson analyzes how her failings and triumphs have enabled her to take control of her life, even as she was hounded by the press and various music and movie executives about her weight. Simpson’s memoir contains plenty of personal and professional moments for fans to savor.

An eye-opening glimpse into the attempted self-unmaking of one of Hollywood’s most recognizable talents.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-289996-5

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Dey Street/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 16, 2020

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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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