An author who vaunts his “likable kookiness” finds fresh invention in the sum lessons of his life.

Tender, witty memoir about the contortions of childhood and first love.

French author Bouillier (The Mystery Guest, 2006) delights in the pell-mell selection from his life story of seemingly random details that carry a mythological significance, such as names (his own surname means “small birch forest”) and dates. Born in Algeria in 1960 while his father was performing compulsory military service, he moved with his parents and older brother first to Lyons, then to Paris when he was five. Early on, he contracted staphylococcus aureus, possibly from licking the windows of a train. He lost his sense of smell and nearly died from the virulent infection, but “was more than a little proud of having caught something that turned out so difficult to spell.” Bouillier later re-created the “toxic shock” of this event when he met one of the defining loves of his life, Laurence, on a train. His childhood was marked by the accidental scalping of his best friend on the playground, the breakup then rapprochement of his volatile parents and his love for Marie-Blanche Fenwick, the daughter of a haute-bourgeois family residing near the Champs-Elysées. His glimpse of Madame Fenwick washing her bottom over a bidet suffused the nine-year-old with a sense of beauty and redemption, swiftly eclipsed when a drug scandal sent the Fenwicks fleeing from the country. Later, Bouillier recognized he had tried to recapture that glorious feeling of youth by plunging into a doomed romance with a girl in a dove-gray blouse who lured him to the Gulf of Mexico, dove-gray and golf being two emblematic words associated with Madame Fenwick. (And golfe being the French word for gulf.) Left at wit’s end after the girlfriend vanished, he returned to his parents’ home, plunged into Homer’s Odyssey and put aside painting for literature: “It was my sacrifice for continuing to live,” he says.

An author who vaunts his “likable kookiness” finds fresh invention in the sum lessons of his life.

Pub Date: Jan. 6, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-618-96861-9

Page Count: 128

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2008


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



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

Close Quickview