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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


If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998


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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