A shrewd meditation on home, family, nature, and the author’s native South.

THE HOME PLACE

MEMOIRS OF A COLORED MAN'S LOVE AFFAIR WITH NATURE

An ornithologist writes about himself as a member of a rare and perhaps endangered species: the African-American birder.

Lanham (Wildlife Ecology/Clemson Univ.) describes himself as “an unusually colored fish out of water,” as someone who doesn’t “fit the common calculus.” He describes his upbringing in the rural South in a rapturous way that shows how nature became his religion, but he also knows why many of his race associate the land with harsher memories, backbreaking labor, and being treated as less than equal or even human. As he traces his singular path from the family homestead through higher education—he switched majors from engineering to zoology and lost his scholarship—Lanham occasionally succumbs to an excess of literary flourish and a penchant for alliteration in particular. In the space of less than five pages, he writes of “the sylvan savior of southern soil,” “the priceless places where nature hangs by tooth, talon, and tendril,” and “something furred, feathered, finned, or scaled that scurried, swam, or flew.” Yet when the published poet gives way to the memoirist, his experiences require no flowery expression. Perhaps the most powerfully provocative chapter is “Birding While Black,” which begins, “it’s only 8:38 a.m. and I think I might get hanged today.” Apparently, a lone black man with binoculars arouses suspicion in neighborhoods where Confederate flags abound. The author is also illuminating on what some might see as the contradiction in values between his passions for birding and hunting, in what he calls “my transition from a wine-drinking, cheese-eating ecologist to a beer-swilling, venison-chewing wildlife biologist.” Ultimately, he brings the memoir full circle in a search for roots that expand his sense of identity, as the home he once knew is not what it was but remains forever in his memory and his heart.

A shrewd meditation on home, family, nature, and the author’s native South.

Pub Date: Sept. 13, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-57131-315-7

Page Count: 232

Publisher: Milkweed

Review Posted Online: June 22, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2016

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

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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A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor...

INTO THE WILD

The excruciating story of a young man on a quest for knowledge and experience, a search that eventually cooked his goose, told with the flair of a seasoned investigative reporter by Outside magazine contributing editor Krakauer (Eiger Dreams, 1990). 

Chris McCandless loved the road, the unadorned life, the Tolstoyan call to asceticism. After graduating college, he took off on another of his long destinationless journeys, this time cutting all contact with his family and changing his name to Alex Supertramp. He was a gent of strong opinions, and he shared them with those he met: "You must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life''; "be nomadic.'' Ultimately, in 1992, his terms got him into mortal trouble when he ran up against something—the Alaskan wild—that didn't give a hoot about Supertramp's worldview; his decomposed corpse was found 16 weeks after he entered the bush. Many people felt McCandless was just a hubris-laden jerk with a death wish (he had discarded his map before going into the wild and brought no food but a bag of rice). Krakauer thought not. Admitting an interest that bordered on obsession, he dug deep into McCandless's life. He found a willful, reckless, moody boyhood; an ugly little secret that sundered the relationship between father and son; a moral absolutism that agitated the young man's soul and drove him to extremes; but he was no more a nutcase than other pilgrims. Writing in supple, electric prose, Krakauer tries to make sense of McCandless (while scrupulously avoiding off-the-rack psychoanalysis): his risky behavior and the rites associated with it, his asceticism, his love of wide open spaces, the flights of his soul.

A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor will it to readers of Krakauer's narrative. (4 maps) (First printing of 35,000; author tour)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-42850-X

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Villard

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1995

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