PEELING THE ONION

The reader must decide whether this eloquent self-portrait does express regret, even atonement; represents yet another...

The 1999 Nobel Prize–winner tells the story of his childhood, youth and early artistic career in a riveting memoir that has quickly attracted international controversy and not a little righteous anger.

For, the world now knows, the brilliant expressionist author—a painter and sculptor in words as in the visual and plastic arts he has likewise mastered—long known as a fierce critic of German xenophobia and in particular his country’s 20th-century history of aggression and genocide, kept silent for decades about his own experiences as a soldier of the Third Reich. In an essentially chronological narrative that frequently looks forward to Grass’s later years (he’s now in his 80s), we learn of his youth as the dreamy, artistically inclined son of a “bourgeois” shopkeeper’s family, as well as the apolitical “faith in the Führer” that inspired him to don a smart-looking uniform that might attract girls and to join Heinrich Himmler’s Waffen-S.S. (after attempting to enter the submarine service). We also receive information about his combat misadventures and borderline-arduous detainment in POW camps. Employing both first- and third-person narration, Grass pictures himself as an idealistic naïf who slowly developed a mature political conscience, as he emerged from the war unharmed, worked in a potash mine, then apprenticed to first a stone-cutter then a sculptor, traveled and absorbed culture (e.g., participating in a jam session joined by a visiting Louis Armstrong), married and fathered four children and earned fame with the publication of his first novel, The Tin Drum, in 1959. The command of incident and detail is superlative, and the book is immensely readable. But some will feel that Grass’s apologia, if it is such, amounts to too little too late. “I practiced the art of evasion,” he concedes, “[but] the massive weight of the German past and hence my own …. stood in my way …. No path led round it.”

The reader must decide whether this eloquent self-portrait does express regret, even atonement; represents yet another “evasion”; or, how much, in the final analysis, the difference actually matters.

Pub Date: June 25, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-15-101477-4

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2007

NIGHT

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

THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS

FROM MEAN STREETS TO WALL STREET

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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