The grand sweep of American history is writ small in this family history/memoir by humorist Frazier (Great Plains, 1989, etc.). Frazier undertook this effort after his parents died in the late 1980s, to ``find a meaning that would defeat death.'' But his project seems more complicated and self-conscious, if not pretentious: an attempt to somehow reclaim American history for himself, a white Protestant. His preoccupation with his own religious doubt, contrasted with the firm faith of his ancestors- -whether German Reformed, Old School Presbyterian, or, like his great-great-grandfather Simeon Frazier, a member of the antiauthoritarian Disciples of Christ—culminates in a strange, reductionist review of American history as an expression of the decline of Protestant faith. More broadly, Frazier shares indiscriminately with us every detail he has been able to root out: from the momentous (the arrival of Thomas Benedict on these shores in 1638 and his descendant Platt Benedict's founding of Norwalk, Ohio) to the trivial (his great-great-uncle Charles's first attempt at fly-fishing and his grandmother's showing family pictures to Tennessee Williams in Key West). The quantity of information that could have rendered full-blooded portraits of long-ago generations is lacking; the lengthy catalogs often offered (trite entries from a great-grandfather's school diary, quotations from his parents' rather ordinary love letters) seem like fillers. The histories of the Fraziers, Wickhams, Benedicts, and Hurshes do follow the outlines of American history: the push west (all his relatives ended up in Ohio); the Civil War (Norwalk was a stop on the underground railroad); industrialization (his father became a chemist for Sohio). But Frazier's prose is flat as a prairie and his humor dry as stone. Only at the end, in interviews with two colorful relatives, and with the description of the deaths of his teenage brother Fritz from leukemia and of his parents, does the tale reach emotional heights. An object lesson in the pitfalls of writing a family history for anyone other than your family. (First printing of 50,000; $50,000 ad/promo; author tour)

Pub Date: Oct. 28, 1994

ISBN: 0-374-15319-1

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1994

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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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Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.



Rootin’-tootin’ history of the dry-gulchers, horn-swogglers, and outright killers who populated the Wild West’s wildest city in the late 19th century.

The stories of Wyatt Earp and company, the shootout at the O.K. Corral, and Geronimo and the Apache Wars are all well known. Clavin, who has written books on Dodge City and Wild Bill Hickok, delivers a solid narrative that usefully links significant events—making allies of white enemies, for instance, in facing down the Apache threat, rustling from Mexico, and other ethnically charged circumstances. The author is a touch revisionist, in the modern fashion, in noting that the Earps and Clantons weren’t as bloodthirsty as popular culture has made them out to be. For example, Wyatt and Bat Masterson “took the ‘peace’ in peace officer literally and knew that the way to tame the notorious town was not to outkill the bad guys but to intimidate them, sometimes with the help of a gun barrel to the skull.” Indeed, while some of the Clantons and some of the Earps died violently, most—Wyatt, Bat, Doc Holliday—died of cancer and other ailments, if only a few of old age. Clavin complicates the story by reminding readers that the Earps weren’t really the law in Tombstone and sometimes fell on the other side of the line and that the ordinary citizens of Tombstone and other famed Western venues valued order and peace and weren’t particularly keen on gunfighters and their mischief. Still, updating the old notion that the Earp myth is the American Iliad, the author is at his best when he delineates those fraught spasms of violence. “It is never a good sign for law-abiding citizens,” he writes at one high point, “to see Johnny Ringo rush into town, both him and his horse all in a lather.” Indeed not, even if Ringo wound up killing himself and law-abiding Tombstone faded into obscurity when the silver played out.

Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-21458-4

Page Count: 400

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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