A highly polished memoir of enormous heart.

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 29, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2017


If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

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 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998


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