An intriguing historical document, particularly for readers who have a passion for West Africa and narratives of the...

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Letters from Nigeria

A YOUNG AMERICAN OBSERVES A NEWLY INDEPENDENT COUNTRY, 1961-62

Personal missives to family and striking images reveal the daily lives of an American couple living in the West African country of Nigeria in the early 1960s.

As a couple of ambitious graduate students who’d advocated for the creation of a diplomatic “peace army,” even before the election of John F. Kennedy, Clark and her husband, Peter, were more than ready to drop their studies for the opportunity to live in Nigeria. From 1961 to ’62, she sent letters back home to her family members detailing the exotic landscape of Lagos as it underwent major change. She worked there as a secretary for various international organizations while Peter furthered his career in economics and international development, which gave them access to important political events as well as to the intoxicating sights and sounds of local markets. The author relates all of this in great detail in her letters, which she presents here mostly unedited; in them, she wistfully describes such things as the weekends that she and her husband spent sailing or the effect of the hot climate on Nigerian business hours. She also writes of developing a strong friendship with and reliance on their house servant, Columbus, as they tried to better understand their new home and eventually welcome their new child into it. Accompanying all of these reflections are incredible color photos, taken by Peter, that help immensely to illustrate the unique time and place. Clark writes earnestly about her desire to help the Nigerian people and about her discomfort at the class distinctions between masters and servants in society and in her own home (“Peter is always referred to as ‘Master’ and I am ‘Madam.’ Horrible”). However, her point of view throughout the letters is clearly rooted in her position as a wealthy expatriate; accounts of dinners with notable journalists and diplomats and of gossip from around the yacht club pepper the entries. The collection as a whole might have benefited greatly from stronger editing; aside from an excellent foreword and afterword, Clark offers few opportunities for contextualization and reflection beyond the letters’ personal, intimate nature. That said, the collection does offer stylish, enjoyable prose and keen observations on daily life in a fascinating place.

An intriguing historical document, particularly for readers who have a passion for West Africa and narratives of the expatriate experience.

Pub Date: June 10, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-942155-13-3

Page Count: 280

Publisher: Peter E. Randall

Review Posted Online: Sept. 14, 2016

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Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

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UNTAMED

More life reflections from the bestselling author on themes of societal captivity and the catharsis of personal freedom.

In her third book, Doyle (Love Warrior, 2016, etc.) begins with a life-changing event. “Four years ago,” she writes, “married to the father of my three children, I fell in love with a woman.” That woman, Abby Wambach, would become her wife. Emblematically arranged into three sections—“Caged,” “Keys,” “Freedom”—the narrative offers, among other elements, vignettes about the soulful author’s girlhood, when she was bulimic and felt like a zoo animal, a “caged girl made for wide-open skies.” She followed the path that seemed right and appropriate based on her Catholic upbringing and adolescent conditioning. After a downward spiral into “drinking, drugging, and purging,” Doyle found sobriety and the authentic self she’d been suppressing. Still, there was trouble: Straining an already troubled marriage was her husband’s infidelity, which eventually led to life-altering choices and the discovery of a love she’d never experienced before. Throughout the book, Doyle remains open and candid, whether she’s admitting to rigging a high school homecoming court election or denouncing the doting perfectionism of “cream cheese parenting,” which is about “giving your children the best of everything.” The author’s fears and concerns are often mirrored by real-world issues: gender roles and bias, white privilege, racism, and religion-fueled homophobia and hypocrisy. Some stories merely skim the surface of larger issues, but Doyle revisits them in later sections and digs deeper, using friends and familial references to personify their impact on her life, both past and present. Shorter pieces, some only a page in length, manage to effectively translate an emotional gut punch, as when Doyle’s therapist called her blooming extramarital lesbian love a “dangerous distraction.” Ultimately, the narrative is an in-depth look at a courageous woman eager to share the wealth of her experiences by embracing vulnerability and reclaiming her inner strength and resiliency.

Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-0125-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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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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