An engrossing and offbeat story of ideological bonds that chafe—and sometimes liberate.

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A young woman experiences a sexual awakening—and romantic frustration—in a kooky cult in this debut coming-of-age memoir.

After her graduation from Harvard in 1999, Zuman’s search for herself took her to the Zendik Farm commune in North Carolina. Founded in the 1960s on countercultural blather, Zendik preached back-to-the-land living, contempt for the “Deathculture” of competitive capitalism, and psycho-motivational aphorisms—“Dare to demand the impossible and it becomes possible”—from deceased guru Wulf Zendik’s The Affirmative Life. In Zuman’s telling, Zendik’s reality is strange and crass. Members supported the commune by hawking its magazine, music CDs, and bumper stickers—“Stop Bitching Start a Revolution”—on the streets, which made maniacal salesmanship a Zendik must. Meanwhile, sex on the farm was rigidly bureaucratized. Members proposed “walks” (dates) or “dates” (sex appointments) with other Zendiks by lodging requests with administrators, who acted as go-betweens in scheduling assignations; women were denied dates if group gynecological exams indicated they were in a fertile phase. (The guru, who had bedded most female Zendiks, disliked condoms.) Zuman, a shy but yearning virgin, appreciated this protocol because it obviated her awkwardness at courtship; soon she had an active sex life and got to act out her rape fantasy (in a graphic description, it’s a painful, bloody fiasco ending in herpes). Unfortunately, Zendik thought monogamy undermined the group, and Zuman was repeatedly pressured into wrenching breakups with long-term boyfriends; but when she left the farm to hitchhike to Idaho and find permanent love, predatory men sent her running back. Zuman’s vivid portrait renders Zendik as a pressure cooker of jealousy and exploitation under the manipulative leadership of Arol, Wulf’s consort. Zendiks were exhorted to take personal responsibility for their dysfunctions, yet the supreme sin was “running your own show” in defiance of the collective—read Arol’s—will. Yet Zuman never makes herself a victim: She retains her sense of agency (and humor) as she weighs Zendik’s weird creed and power plays against the sense of righteousness and belonging that drew her in. Her whip-smart prose—on her selling shifts, she “hit up mostly single men, zeroing in on the disheveled, disaffected, afraid, and misshapen…if they paired superhero trucker caps with Coke-bottle glasses…so much the better”—conveys the squalid exuberance of Zendik’s blend of idealism and fraud.

An engrossing and offbeat story of ideological bonds that chafe—and sometimes liberate.

Pub Date: May 8, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-63152-337-3

Page Count: 256

Publisher: She Writes Press

Review Posted Online: Jan. 19, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2018

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.


The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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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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