HAROLD

THE BOY WHO BECAME MARK TWAIN

Noted actor Holbrook serves up a charming but unsentimental memoir of his early life.

The author is well known for one-man shows depicting Mark Twain in all his white-suited, cigar-chomping, brilliant finery. It may come as a surprise to some readers that Holbrook was scarcely out of childhood when the role was thrust on him, along with Shakespeare and Wilde and all the other stuff of a traveling theatrical troupe. His childhood was anything but easy. He opens with an incident in a principal’s office that would turn anyone from school, one of many acts of unrestrained evil that pop up from time to time in the narrative—besides, at his next school, he was filled with foreboding at the sight of “massive brick buildings resembling fortresses with openings on the roof for people to shoot at you.” Yet acts of kindness, it seems, came along more often enough that Holbrook did not despair. He reconnected with his mentally ill, absent father, whom he came to understand and forgive; he found encouragement among fellow actors in training, and particularly by an acting teacher in college. Holbrook set his sights low—he was elated when he learned of his first acting job that “they were going to pay me $15 a week”—but he quickly discovered that he excelled at his chosen work, which didn’t necessarily make the school of hard knocks any easier. Without boasting, Holbrook recounts being recognized early on as both a serious worker and a leader—during his Army years, the brass were constantly trying to make him an officer. But mostly his memoir is a matter of living out of a trunk, traveling dusty roads from town to town and enduring bad turns of fate, not least of them the blacklist of the McCarthy era. The events in this book end in 1958—meaning, one hopes, that a sequel will appear in short order.

 

Pub Date: Sept. 20, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-374-28101-4

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: July 20, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 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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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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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

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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