Intelligent, reflective and deeply sad portrait of a man tragically cut adrift by history.

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THE IMPOSSIBLE EXILE

Stefan Zweig (1881–1942) stands in for Europe’s uprooted intellectuals in this elegiac portrait by Prochnik (In Pursuit of Silence: Listening for Meaning in a World of Noise, 2010, etc.).

Zweig was one of the most famous and successful authors in the world in the 1920s and early ’30s, best known for his novellas and breezy biographies of historical figures like Erasmus and Marie Antoinette. His fellow Viennese intellectuals might have slightly disdained his wild popularity—except that everyone loved this slight, dapper man with his “genius for friendship.” When the Nazis came to power, Zweig was in a much better position that most, with plenty of money to fund his travels as he roamed from Switzerland to southern France to England and the United States in search of a refuge from the fascist madness. His relative comfort, however, could not make up for the trauma of being ejected from the culture that he, like many other German-speaking Jews, had believed belonged to them as well. “The world we loved has gone beyond recall,” he gloomily told a fellow refugee in Manhattan in 1941. “We shall be homeless in all countries. We have no present and no future.” Prochnik, himself a polymath writer with European Jewish roots, was prompted by the story of his own family, which also fled Nazi-occupied Vienna, to investigate Zweig’s experience of exile. Unable to envision himself settled in America despite four stays in New York, Zweig finally moved to a small village in Brazil in 1941, hoping for peace in which to write. Prochnik sensitively considers his final books—the poignant memoir The World of Yesterday (1942) and Brazil: Land of the Future (1941), which determinedly celebrated his adopted country’s embrace of “the humanist values his native Europe had so wretchedly betrayed.” In the end, accumulating losses and dwindling hopes of a better tomorrow drove Zweig to commit suicide not long after his 60th birthday.

Intelligent, reflective and deeply sad portrait of a man tragically cut adrift by history.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-59051-612-6

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Other Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 13, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2014

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An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

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BECOMING

The former first lady opens up about her early life, her journey to the White House, and the eight history-making years that followed.

It’s not surprising that Obama grew up a rambunctious kid with a stubborn streak and an “I’ll show you” attitude. After all, it takes a special kind of moxie to survive being the first African-American FLOTUS—and not only survive, but thrive. For eight years, we witnessed the adversity the first family had to face, and now we get to read what it was really like growing up in a working-class family on Chicago’s South Side and ending up at the world’s most famous address. As the author amply shows, her can-do attitude was daunted at times by racism, leaving her wondering if she was good enough. Nevertheless, she persisted, graduating from Chicago’s first magnet high school, Princeton, and Harvard Law School, and pursuing careers in law and the nonprofit world. With her characteristic candor and dry wit, she recounts the story of her fateful meeting with her future husband. Once they were officially a couple, her feelings for him turned into a “toppling blast of lust, gratitude, fulfillment, wonder.” But for someone with a “natural resistance to chaos,” being the wife of an ambitious politician was no small feat, and becoming a mother along the way added another layer of complexity. Throw a presidential campaign into the mix, and even the most assured woman could begin to crack under the pressure. Later, adjusting to life in the White House was a formidable challenge for the self-described “control freak”—not to mention the difficulty of sparing their daughters the ugly side of politics and preserving their privacy as much as possible. Through it all, Obama remained determined to serve with grace and help others through initiatives like the White House garden and her campaign to fight childhood obesity. And even though she deems herself “not a political person,” she shares frank thoughts about the 2016 election.

An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6313-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 30, 2018

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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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