“I have written about crime because it illustrates more clearly than anything else the contrasts that form the basis of...

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QUICKSAND

WHAT IT MEANS TO BE A HUMAN BEING

Diagnosed with the cancer that would take his life in 2015, the creator of the Kurt Wallander mysteries (An Event in Autumn, 2014, etc.) casts an impassioned eye on life and death.

Readers looking for either a narrative autobiography or a memoir of the Swedish novelist’s last illness will need to adjust their expectations. What Mankell offers instead is a commonplace book in which memories of things he’s seen or felt over the past 60 years inspire fiercely philosophical ruminations. Mankell retrospectively decides to date the onset of his fatal illness, which he likens to a pit of quicksand, to a car crash he walked away from a week before he first noticed the pain in his neck that sent him to the doctor. He likens cancer therapists to the fraudulent psychic Uri Geller. He recalls examples of appalling cruelty he saw in Budapest and Maputo. He speculates about the biological foundations for the different reasons men and women get jealous, and he confesses how troubled he is “that I shall be dead for so long.” Although Mankell’s reflections are deeply personal, readers will learn little about the details of his life because he remains resolutely extroverted, a keen observer of the world whose illness encourages him to take the long view. He describes the future ice ages climate scientists have predicted for 10,000 years, 20,000 years, and 60,000 years from now and repeatedly returns to the dim prospects for the Earth and its people, who have come to depend on the integrity of systems to dispose of nuclear waste that is expected to remain dangerously radioactive for 1,000 centuries.

“I have written about crime because it illustrates more clearly than anything else the contrasts that form the basis of human life,” writes Mankell. After digesting these piercing intimations of mortality, readers will suspect that some subjects illustrate those contrasts even more clearly.

Pub Date: Jan. 10, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-525-43215-9

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Vintage

Review Posted Online: Nov. 1, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2016

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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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