An uneven coming-of-age memoir of life under two regimes.

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MY ONLY CHOICE

1942-1956 HUNGARY

Szablya (The Fall of the Red Star, 2002, etc.) presents a memoir about life under Nazi occupation and Communist rule in Hungary.

For the author, air-raid sirens marked the onset of World War II and the end of her childhood. Her grandfather, who founded a chain of drugstores in Budapest and created a popular line of beauty products, had secured a comfortable existence for the family. The clan had two homes, commanded an army of servants and had considerable influence in the community—a life that slipped away when the Nazis occupied Hungary. As the bombing intensified and yellow stars appeared on Jews’ lapels, the family took shelter in the countryside and witnessed the Red Army’s advance, which the author describes as more scourge than salvation. Helen was taught to say that she was 9 to avoid being raped; her pretty mother was kept out of sight for the same reason. Her father, who served as a doctor for wounded soldiers, helped avert the worst encounters. Peace was elusive, and even an armistice didn’t mean the end of the family’s nightmare. The Soviet Union took control of Hungary, the family business was nationalized, and, in time, Helen’s mother was arrested by the secret police. Spanning 14 years, Szablya’s memoir reads like an oral history full of poignant anecdotes: After the siege of Budapest, a man’s house collapsed on him while he ate lunch; a woman whose family was killed could complain only that “the Soviets had taken all of her black slips.” Still, many readers may feel that the book might have benefited from more rigorous editing; the author often gives free rein to childhood memories that seem extraneous, including a trip to Paris packed with exhausting details (“The French sold their bread in long sticks, by the meter”). Some incidents might have had more resonance if the author had provided more psychological insight. That said, the book is a welcome addition to firsthand accounts of the era; historians may find it worthy of perusal, but more casual readers may wish for a more streamlined account.

An uneven coming-of-age memoir of life under two regimes.

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2013

ISBN: 978-1479210206

Page Count: 580

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: June 25, 2013

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An eye-opening glimpse into the attempted self-unmaking of one of Hollywood’s most recognizable talents.

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The debut memoir from the pop and fashion star.

Early on, Simpson describes the book she didn’t write: “a motivational manual telling you how to live your best life.” Though having committed to the lucrative deal years before, she “walked away,” fearing any sort of self-help advice she might give would be hypocritical. Outwardly, Simpson was at the peak of her success, with her fashion line generating “one billion dollars in annual sales.” However, anxiety was getting the better of her, and she admits she’d become a “feelings addict,” just needing “enough noise to distract me from the pain I’d been avoiding since childhood. The demons of traumatic abuse that refused to let me sleep at night—Tylenol PM at age twelve, red wine and Ambien as a grown, scared woman. Those same demons who perched on my shoulder, and when they saw a man as dark as them, leaned in to my ear to whisper, ‘Just give him your light. See if it saves him…’ ” On Halloween 2017, Simpson hit rock bottom, and, with the intervention of her devoted friends and husband, began to address her addictions and underlying fears. In this readable but overlong narrative, the author traces her childhood as a Baptist preacher’s daughter moving 18 times before she “hit fifth grade,” and follows her remarkable rise to fame as a singer. She reveals the psychological trauma resulting from years of sexual abuse by a family friend, experiences that drew her repeatedly into bad relationships with men, most publicly with ex-husband Nick Lachey. Admitting that she was attracted to the validating power of an audience, Simpson analyzes how her failings and triumphs have enabled her to take control of her life, even as she was hounded by the press and various music and movie executives about her weight. Simpson’s memoir contains plenty of personal and professional moments for fans to savor.

An eye-opening glimpse into the attempted self-unmaking of one of Hollywood’s most recognizable talents.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-289996-5

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Dey Street/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 16, 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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