Knowledgeable and occasionally insightful but also undisciplined and self-indulgent.




W.H. Auden’s famous poem receives an impressionistic, idiosyncratic examination from fellow poet, mystery writer, and jack-of-all–literary trades Sansom (English/Univ. of Warwick; December Stories I, 2018, etc.).

Don’t expect conventional literary criticism or an exegesis of the poem’s historical and autobiographical underpinnings in this rambling, fitfully stimulating work. Structured as a stanza-by-stanza exploration, the text is in fact extremely scattershot; Sansom takes 100 pages to get through Auden’s first stanza, leaving 200 breathless pages for the next eight. Indeed, the text generally has a breathless, tossed-off air, though the author tells us he has been trying to write about Auden for 25 years. The plethora of literary extracts scattered throughout, by Auden and others, might testify to Sansom’s deep knowledge of literature—or might just signal an author substituting quotation for inspiration. He certainly knows a lot about Auden, and there are flashes of genuine perceptiveness: “that weird combination in [Auden’s] work of mental toughness and piercing insights, and also a deep, sweet sentimentality.” (Sansom takes a more jaundiced tone about Auden’s sentimental tendencies when he gets to the poem’s most famous line, “We must love one another or die,” and dismisses it with a brisk, “No. Just, no.”) Sansom never conveys the sense of personal connection that presumably led him to grapple with Auden and his work. Instead, we get uninteresting personal trivia, such as the author’s feelings of inferiority to real Auden scholars like John Fuller and Edward Mendelson or the fact that he, like Auden, reads a lot of crime fiction. The latter remark is followed by the vague claim that “it’s hard not to imagine Auden as some sort of detective…one of those professional amateurs beloved of crime writers.” Whether a reader finds this sort of aperçu charming or not is a good forecast of what their overall reaction to the book will be.

Knowledgeable and occasionally insightful but also undisciplined and self-indulgent.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-06-298459-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Aug. 7, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2019

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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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