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In taut, sometimes-tense prose, Johnson shows us so many varieties of human pain as well as many glimmers of hope.

A writer with deep Appalachian roots rehearses his life story, positioning it under the most exacting of microscopes.

Harper’s contributor Johnson (The Man Who Loved Birds, 2016, etc.), who was born and raised “in the Kentucky Knobs, a westward-flung, northwest-curling finger of the Appalachians,” has a variety of topics on his agenda in these essays, which date to as early as 1989 and as recently as 2016; some appear for the first time here. His dawning awareness that he is gay, the death of his lover to AIDS in 1990 (his most painful memories of this occur in several essays), his struggles with religion (somewhat resolved in recent years), his determination to recognize love as the key to all—these subjects he visits throughout. In another way, Johnson, whose first name came from a Trappist monk who lived near his home, reveals other aspects of his personality and character less directly. Numerous literary allusions, for example, show his wide and eclectic reading. William James, George Eliot, Sophocles, Lewis Thomas, Thomas Merton, Mark Twain, and numerous others rise up continually in his prose to reaffirm or confirm a point, to illustrate, or to summarize. Johnson also evinces a fairly liberal political sensibility, and his 2014 essay on war and pacifism, “Power and Obedience: Restoring Pacifism to American Politics,” reveals the depths of his opposition to war. Johnson writes in a learned, serious, and occasionally erudite style, and he makes little use of irony or humor. Throughout the collection, we infer much about his personal life: his Kentucky boyhood, his undergraduate years at Stanford, and a bit about his teaching. One brief essay, “Witness and Storyteller,” from 2008, is even a tad erotic.

In taut, sometimes-tense prose, Johnson shows us so many varieties of human pain as well as many glimmers of hope.

Pub Date: May 16, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-941411-43-8

Page Count: 216

Publisher: Sarabande

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2017

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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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