A highly polished memoir of enormous heart.

AMONG THE LIVING AND THE DEAD

A TALE OF EXILE AND HOMECOMING ON THE WAR ROADS OF EUROPE

The Latvian world of her grandmother draws the writer, an American, back to the old country to re-create a vanished life between farm and war.

In her striking debut memoir, Verzemnieks (Creative Nonfiction/Univ. of Iowa), winner of a Pushcart Prize and a Rona Jaffe Writer’s Award, refashions the early life of her deceased grandmother Livija, who was born and raised on a farm in Gulbene, in eastern Latvia. She left her hometown to work in Riga as a bookkeeper and was subsequently caught up in the Soviet invasion and takeover of her country in World War II. Livija then left her homeland and came to the United States, where she was reunited with her soldier husband, who had been demobilized from the Latvian Legion, which was actually fighting for Nazi Germany against Russia. Livija and her family settled into the Latvian community of the former mill town of Tacoma, Washington. There, they raised their granddaughter, the author, after her parents got divorced and underwent mysterious crises, leaving the child in their care. The author became keenly aware of all aspects of the life Livija left behind, so much so that years later, when she actually visited her grandmother’s homestead and grew friendly with her great-aunt, she was able to re-create in great detail this vanished life. Verzemnieks beautifully evokes the sympathy between Livija and her young granddaughter and the subsequent acquaintance between the author, now grown and married herself, and her great-aunt, who reluctantly revealed painful episodes of her past, such as the day the Russians arrived at the end of the war, ransacked the farmhouse, and deported her sister to a labor camp in Siberia. With fluidity and nuance, the author smoothly incorporates Latvian history into her narrative as well as the quietly buried sins of the past, such as the Latvian men’s forced conscription to fight on the German side.

A highly polished memoir of enormous heart.

Pub Date: July 11, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-393-24511-0

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: April 30, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2017

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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 48 LAWS OF POWER

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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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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