A masterfully written biography of Matisse, whose dedication to an art of “balance, purity, and tranquility” was his primary defense against a life of hardship, disruption, and loss. Few who know Matisse’s work would equate the dynamism of his palette—full of saturated, singing colors—with the fierce emotional intensity of the man himself, but Spurling, a British theater critic and literary editor of the Spectator, makes the connection. With tremendous sensitivity to her subject, she casts the story of Matisse’s early life as “a flight toward the brilliant light” from the dark and dour northern landscape of his birthplace, Bohain-en-Vermandois, near the Belgian border. It was, she points out, the same cultural and geographic area that had given rise to van Gogh some 16 years earlier, and while Matisse’s own artistic fever was never quite as incapacitating as his predecessor’s, it was still intense. Matisse suffered from unrelenting insomnia for much of his life and sometimes —feared that the blazing colors he had let loose would end by making him go blind.— Fortunately, he escaped that fate, although he did not escape being maligned and ridiculed. When Matisse submitted Le Bonheur de vivre to the Salon des IndÇpendents in 1906, for example, practical jokers defaced handbills posted outside the local urinals so that they read: —Matisse has caused more harm in a year than an epidemic!— and —Matisse drives you mad!— Spurling delves into Matisse’s past with a historian’s eye for detail and a fervor that gives her narrative compelling force. She maintains that, from the start of his career, Matisse undertook nothing less than a groundbreaking exploration of color, form, and emotionality in painting. “Matisse was not simply discarding perspective, abolishing shadows, repudiating the academic distinction between line and color,— she writes, —he was attempting to overturn a way of seeing evolved and accepted by the Western world for centuries.” Matisse’s genius was to make conscious subjectivity the defining force of his painting; Spurling, in this first volume of his biography, excels by revealing the forces that shaped both the man and his aesthetic. (24 pages color and 152 b&w illustrations, not seen)

Pub Date: Nov. 5, 1998

ISBN: 0-679-43428-3

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1998

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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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