Though Vidal’s memories from encounters in DC, New York, Hollywood and elsewhere remain intact, the wit that animates the...

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A MEMOIR

In this successor to the first volume of his memoir, Palimpsest (1995), prolific novelist/essayist/gadfly Vidal mixes mournful minor keys among his usual trumpet blasts against what he regards as an American emporium run by oil men and religious fanatics.

Vidal fans will recognize much material from Palimpsest and Screening History, which offered his meditations on the movies. But in contrast to earlier reminiscences, “melancholy baggage” weighs more heavily on him here—declining health and departed friends, notably longtime companion Howard Austen. (The account of the latter’s final days is the most affecting part of this book.) Moving from his villa in Ravello, Italy, to the Hollywood Hills, Vidal starts this year-long chronicle on New Year’s Eve 2004. Death—Iraq casualties, disaster victims in New Orleans, the exits of Saul Bellow, Johnny Carson and Pope John Paul II—provokes a flood of memories and political fulminations. Like a weary ancient Roman patrician, he awaits his turn to shuffle off this mortal coil, though not without cost. “These rehearsals for death take more and more out of one,” he confesses. Sensing that time is no longer on his side, Vidal summons his energies to celebrate friends, flay enemies (the New York Times froze his first several novels out of its daily book reviews, largely, he says, because of his sexual orientation) and bemoan the end of “our old original Republic.” When of a mind, Vidal can produce memorable portraits (e.g., on Orson Welles: “When he laughed, which was often, his face, starting at the lower lip, would turn scarlet while sweat formed on his brow like a sudden spring rain”). But while taking credit for urging JFK to create a Peace Corps, he fails to note it was proposed in Congress earlier. Moreover, he mentions nothing about imbroglios with William F. Buckley and Norman Mailer, and is mostly silent on novels like Lincoln and Burr.

Though Vidal’s memories from encounters in DC, New York, Hollywood and elsewhere remain intact, the wit that animates the best of his oeuvre is largely absent, leaving a voice at best affecting and at worst hectoring.

Pub Date: Nov. 7, 2006

ISBN: 0-385-51721-1

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2006

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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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