Germany has made a Rumanian Jew the poet laureate of the Holocaust. German schoolchildren memorize Celan's ``Death Fugue,'' and politicians recite it on state occasions. Celan abjured the role and even the poem. His later work is different: edgy, spare, a stripped-down wrestling with the treacherous mother tongue. He committed suicide in 1970. Like Celan, Chalfen hails from the eastern province of the Austro-Hungarian empire, Bukovina, ceded to Rumania in 1920. Celan was born that year. The chapter on Czernowitz, his hometown, with its large, safe, prosperous community of Jews dating back to the 13th century, is fascinating. After that the book goes downhill somewhat. Chalfen sees local geography and minute events as offering a code by which to decipher obscure, and not so obscure, allusions in the poems—and he can be pretty flat-footed about it. (When Celan speaks of a swan, Chalfen inventories the region's lakes in search of the bird, overlooking an ironic allusion to the swans of one of Hîlderin's better-known poems.) Once he reaches the war years, though, his deadpan delivery is just right, a straight- on reporting of the daily horrors. The Nazis drove the Jews of Czernowitz into a ghetto, then deported them to labor camps beyond the Dniester, where Celan's parents were executed. Celan did forced labor in Moldavia. The shovels of ``Death Fugue'' were real; Chalfen refreshes the quoted poem with documented details. At war's end, the Soviets added Bukovina to the Ukraine. Celan fled to Bucharest and later to Vienna, the capital of his language. And there, in 1948, the book ends, and the enormous Celan bibliography takes over. The assiduous Chalfen hunted up over 50 people who knew Celan in his youth. He quotes them verbatim and without irony. ``An opaque subject,'' one source remarks drily of the undertaking. So it is, but in his modest, plodding way Chalfen sheds a pure and painful light on the education of a great 20th-century poet and the destroyed world that nurtured him.

Pub Date: Jan. 15, 1992

ISBN: 0-89255-162-3

Page Count: 176

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 1991

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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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