Novelist and short-story writer Barnes (English/College of Southern Nevada; Minimal Damage: Stories of Veterans, 2007, etc.) offers a moving memoir of his time at war in Vietnam.

As a young man in 1963, the author was adrift, doing OK in college but without real purpose, emerging from a troubled childhood that left him confused and insecure. A letter from his Draft Board and subsequent enlistment in the Army quickly changed all that. He became, perhaps much to his own surprise, a member of the elite Green Berets, and soon enough found himself in Vietnam. Stationed at Tra Bong, a remote Army outpost surrounded on three sides by forested mountains, Barnes’ life was at first boring and routine, and he captures expertly the humdrum nature of war: beer and bad coffee, rats and diarrhea, darts and cards, heat and insects, dumb officers and flawed but brave comrades. Then, on a routine patrol gone wrong, four of his own and a large number of Vietnamese and Montagnard tribesmen were killed. As he lifted a buddy’s decomposed body off the ground, both a hatred for the enemy and the stupidity of the war emerged. He began his own patrols and learned he could do what few Americans in his outfit could: aptly climb the treacherous mountains and survive in the unforgiving jungle as well as the natives. He learned to trust the jungle, and despite the heat and leeches and danger that seemed omnipresent, he felt more alive than he had before or since. Nearly 50 years later, Barnes writes that “Vietnam is the only thing in my life that isn’t fiction.” In the grand scheme of things, not much happened at Tra Bong; “the life of a trooper out here meant little, except to those who were out here.” But with sharp and unsentimental prose, Barnes makes it matter a great deal. A war remembrance of beauty and unadorned brutality.


Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-8032-3448-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Univ. of Nebraska

Review Posted Online: July 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2011

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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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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...


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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