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Letters from Nigeria


An intriguing historical document, particularly for readers who have a passion for West Africa and narratives of the...

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An intriguing historical document, particularly for readers who have a passion for West Africa and narratives of the expatriate experience.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

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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

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