Dense and exhaustive, a valiant attempt to capture the essence of a life that defies simple retelling.

MADAME BLAVATSKY

THE MOTHER OF MODERN SPIRITUALITY

A glimpse into the foggy biography of the mother of modern spiritualism.

Former Blondie member and prolific writer Lachman (The Quest for Hermes Trismegistus, 2011, etc.) attempts to pin down the nearly impenetrable life story of Helena Petrovna Blavatsky (often referred to as HPB), a 19th-century Russian best known as the founder of a mystical practice she called Theosophy. In the author’s view, “anyone who meditates, or considers himself a Buddhist, or is interested in reincarnation, or has thought about karma” owes a debt to HPB. After a childhood filled with creaky manors and imaginary friends, Blavatsky was propelled by her interest in the occult into a life of travel that led her throughout Europe, Asia and the United States. Upon her arrival in New York in 1873, she befriended journalist and Civil War veteran Henry Olcott; the pair founded the Theosophical Society, an organization committed to furthering their studies in religion and the occult. Despite Lachman’s extensive research on HPB’s life and accomplishments, he struggles to make sense of this “profoundly contradictory character.” Confirmable biographical information is scant, and readers are left with more speculations than conclusions. Occasionally, Lachman apologizes for the convoluted narrative (“if the reader feels a bit dizzy after all this, I can’t blame him”), yet the book’s complexities are more the result of HPB’s own mythmaking than any major authorial shortcomings. Near the conclusion, the author alludes to his frustration with HPB’s highly interpretive accounts of her history and provides what closure he can. “Although practically nothing about her life is certain,” he writes, “one thing is for sure: the world is a far less interesting place without her.”

Dense and exhaustive, a valiant attempt to capture the essence of a life that defies simple retelling.

Pub Date: Oct. 25, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-58542-863-2

Page Count: 272

Publisher: TarcherPerigee

Review Posted Online: Aug. 30, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2012

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

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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A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor...

INTO THE WILD

The excruciating story of a young man on a quest for knowledge and experience, a search that eventually cooked his goose, told with the flair of a seasoned investigative reporter by Outside magazine contributing editor Krakauer (Eiger Dreams, 1990). 

Chris McCandless loved the road, the unadorned life, the Tolstoyan call to asceticism. After graduating college, he took off on another of his long destinationless journeys, this time cutting all contact with his family and changing his name to Alex Supertramp. He was a gent of strong opinions, and he shared them with those he met: "You must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life''; "be nomadic.'' Ultimately, in 1992, his terms got him into mortal trouble when he ran up against something—the Alaskan wild—that didn't give a hoot about Supertramp's worldview; his decomposed corpse was found 16 weeks after he entered the bush. Many people felt McCandless was just a hubris-laden jerk with a death wish (he had discarded his map before going into the wild and brought no food but a bag of rice). Krakauer thought not. Admitting an interest that bordered on obsession, he dug deep into McCandless's life. He found a willful, reckless, moody boyhood; an ugly little secret that sundered the relationship between father and son; a moral absolutism that agitated the young man's soul and drove him to extremes; but he was no more a nutcase than other pilgrims. Writing in supple, electric prose, Krakauer tries to make sense of McCandless (while scrupulously avoiding off-the-rack psychoanalysis): his risky behavior and the rites associated with it, his asceticism, his love of wide open spaces, the flights of his soul.

A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor will it to readers of Krakauer's narrative. (4 maps) (First printing of 35,000; author tour)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-42850-X

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Villard

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1995

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