MY LIFE AS A RUSSIAN NOVEL

A MEMOIR

Intelligent, well-written and scrupulously honest, but off-puttingly self-involved.

French novelist/screenwriter/journalist Carrère (I Am Alive and You Are Dead: A Journey Inside the Mind of Philip K. Dick, 2003, etc.) recalls two fraught years that took him to Siberia and ended a love affair.

Heavy drinking, infidelity, questions about meaning and identity, white nights in the long northern summer—it’s a Russian novel in subject matter, but the author’s approach is decidedly French: minute analysis of each emotional up or down, brutal frankness about his (and others’) less-than-admirable behavior that recalls Flaubert or Stendhal. In 2000, Carrère traveled with a film crew to the provincial town of Kotelnich for a news story that later turned into an open-ended project for the French National Film Commission. Since he had no real plan for the project, he mostly hung around aimlessly with the locals—experiences that are sharply described in the memoir’s least solipsistic scenes—while obsessing over two loose ends in his life. The first was the fate of his grandfather, a Russian immigrant to France who disappeared in 1944, presumably killed in reprisal for collaborating with the Germans. Carrère’s mother, a distinguished French intellectual, begged her son not to write about her shameful father. Believing that she “denied us the right to our suffering,” he did it anyway. This would be less distasteful if the author’s motives didn’t seem to be entirely selfish, which is the impression also created by his account of his tortured relationship with Sophie, the second loose end. The couple had great sex, but everything Carrère writes—including a semi-pornographic story he published in Le Monde, instructing his lover to read it on a train ride and follow its instructions—backs up Sophie’s anguished belief that he was uninterested in her job, her friends and her life, embarrassed by her lower social status and intent on controlling her every move. She had an affair, became pregnant and eventually married another man. Readers will most likely conclude that Carrère deserved Sophie’s payback.

Intelligent, well-written and scrupulously honest, but off-puttingly self-involved.

Pub Date: Aug. 3, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-8050-8755-0

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Metropolitan/Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: June 3, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2010

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

THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS

FROM MEAN STREETS TO WALL STREET

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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