A superbly nuanced portrait of a tortured character.

SIMONE WEIL

A PENGUIN LIFE

A lucid portrait of the enigmatic French writer and mystic.

With this volume, Gray (At Home with the Marquis de Sade, 1998, etc.) adds to the considerable success already achieved by the Penguin series of brief biographies. Weil makes for a challenging subject: Her writing is relatively unknown in the US, and in many respects her life was her most ambitious work. Born into a prosperous Jewish family in 1909, she eventually found fulfillment through a combination of extreme asceticism, solidarity with the working class, and Catholicism. At 16 she wrote, “Sacrifice is the acceptance of pain, the refusal to obey the animal in oneself, and the will to redeem suffering men through voluntary suffering.” And suffer she did: lifelong migraines, anorexia, and a tendency—perhaps subconscious—towards self-mutilation. As Gray observes, for Weil “the cult of self-mastery could all too readily become self-destructive.” Despite her cultivation of personal misery, Weil achieved a great deal. A brilliant student, she went on to considerable success as a schoolteacher, and offered free courses to working people in her spare time. She also spent a year working in various factories, where she attempted (with increasing disillusionment) to help the workers organize. Despite her sympathies with the working class (and her service with the Republican forces in the Spanish Civil War), Weil was an early critic of Stalin and the Communist Party. Her position reflected a deep suspicion of power: A keen student of Machiavelli and Hobbes, she realized that those in power, whatever their professed beliefs, quickly become concerned primarily with self-perpetuation at the cost of social advancement. Towards the end of her brief life (she died at 34), Weil became deeply attached to Catholic doctrine, but she was reluctant to identify herself with any religion and deliberately chose not to be baptized. Many of her most important essays date from her final years and concern her search (never fully realized) for redemption.

A superbly nuanced portrait of a tortured character.

Pub Date: June 25, 2001

ISBN: 0-670-89998-4

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2001

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A standout immigrant coming-of-age story.

THE DISTANCE BETWEEN US

A MEMOIR

In her first nonfiction book, novelist Grande (Dancing with Butterflies, 2009, etc.) delves into her family’s cycle of separation and reunification.

Raised in poverty so severe that spaghetti reminded her of the tapeworms endemic to children in her Mexican hometown, the author is her family’s only college graduate and writer, whose honors include an American Book Award and International Latino Book Award. Though she was too young to remember her father when he entered the United States illegally seeking money to improve life for his family, she idolized him from afar. However, she also blamed him for taking away her mother after he sent for her when the author was not yet 5 years old. Though she emulated her sister, she ultimately answered to herself, and both siblings constantly sought affirmation of their parents’ love, whether they were present or not. When one caused disappointment, the siblings focused their hopes on the other. These contradictions prove to be the narrator’s hallmarks, as she consistently displays a fierce willingness to ask tough questions, accept startling answers, and candidly render emotional and physical violence. Even as a girl, Grande understood the redemptive power of language to define—in the U.S., her name’s literal translation, “big queen,” led to ridicule from other children—and to complicate. In spelling class, when a teacher used the sentence “my mamá loves me” (mi mamá me ama), Grande decided to “rearrange the words so that they formed a question: ¿Me ama mi mamá? Does my mama love me?”

A standout immigrant coming-of-age story.

Pub Date: Aug. 28, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4516-6177-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: June 12, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2012

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Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

TOMBSTONE

THE EARP BROTHERS, DOC HOLLIDAY, AND THE VENDETTA RIDE FROM HELL

Rootin’-tootin’ history of the dry-gulchers, horn-swogglers, and outright killers who populated the Wild West’s wildest city in the late 19th century.

The stories of Wyatt Earp and company, the shootout at the O.K. Corral, and Geronimo and the Apache Wars are all well known. Clavin, who has written books on Dodge City and Wild Bill Hickok, delivers a solid narrative that usefully links significant events—making allies of white enemies, for instance, in facing down the Apache threat, rustling from Mexico, and other ethnically charged circumstances. The author is a touch revisionist, in the modern fashion, in noting that the Earps and Clantons weren’t as bloodthirsty as popular culture has made them out to be. For example, Wyatt and Bat Masterson “took the ‘peace’ in peace officer literally and knew that the way to tame the notorious town was not to outkill the bad guys but to intimidate them, sometimes with the help of a gun barrel to the skull.” Indeed, while some of the Clantons and some of the Earps died violently, most—Wyatt, Bat, Doc Holliday—died of cancer and other ailments, if only a few of old age. Clavin complicates the story by reminding readers that the Earps weren’t really the law in Tombstone and sometimes fell on the other side of the line and that the ordinary citizens of Tombstone and other famed Western venues valued order and peace and weren’t particularly keen on gunfighters and their mischief. Still, updating the old notion that the Earp myth is the American Iliad, the author is at his best when he delineates those fraught spasms of violence. “It is never a good sign for law-abiding citizens,” he writes at one high point, “to see Johnny Ringo rush into town, both him and his horse all in a lather.” Indeed not, even if Ringo wound up killing himself and law-abiding Tombstone faded into obscurity when the silver played out.

Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-21458-4

Page Count: 400

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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