A hushed but resonant literary memoir.

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The Quiet Tides of Bordeaux

Lambert (Termcraft, 2014) records the life a 20th-century schoolteacher in Bordeaux.

At the end of this biography of Madame Hébert, formerly Micheline Ponthier, Lambert writes that the nonagenarian felt gratified that someone had finally put her life down on paper. “The past was not hers anymore now that it existed in a written form, and it would be up to the reader, especially the younger generation, to draw a lesson from it.” The lesson is embedded in the history of a woman, born in 1916 France, who worked as a teacher when the Germans invaded in 1940. Against the backdrop of World War II, the young Catholic Micheline entered into a forbidden love affair with a young Protestant doctor. The relationship was doomed. After the war, Hébert became the director of a training center for women and married a widower with children. Decades later, after her husband, too, had died, Hébert worked with the author to attempt to quiet the competing forces of her recollection and set her memories in order, putting to rest the dead and finding redemption for the living. The book is an unorthodox biography. The names used to describe the characters appear to be pseudonyms (the book is dedicated to a “Madame H***”). The work is as much about the creation of biography as it is about Hébert herself. Lambert exists as a gentle presence at the margins, the receiver of Hébert’s musings and memories. We learn of a previous attempt at setting things down: “Madame Hébert had decided to hire a ‘ghostwriter,’ but the final product failed to satisfy her: one hundred and one pages for a life, her life, filled with emptiness and clichés.” Included along with her sometimes stream-of-consciousness thoughts are many letters, photographs, and drawings of various sites in Bordeaux. The mixed media, along with the blurred line between biography and literary novel, brings to mind the writings of W.G. Sebald. The fractured nature of the narrative, dotted with artifacts of the past, provides a compelling method for telling the story of a life marred by war and loss.

A hushed but resonant literary memoir.

Pub Date: May 25, 2015

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Lulu.com

Review Posted Online: July 30, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2015

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Not an easy read but an essential one.

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HOW TO BE AN ANTIRACIST

Title notwithstanding, this latest from the National Book Award–winning author is no guidebook to getting woke.

In fact, the word “woke” appears nowhere within its pages. Rather, it is a combination memoir and extension of Atlantic columnist Kendi’s towering Stamped From the Beginning (2016) that leads readers through a taxonomy of racist thought to anti-racist action. Never wavering from the thesis introduced in his previous book, that “racism is a powerful collection of racist policies that lead to racial inequity and are substantiated by racist ideas,” the author posits a seemingly simple binary: “Antiracism is a powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to racial equity and are substantiated by antiracist ideas.” The author, founding director of American University’s Antiracist Research and Policy Center, chronicles how he grew from a childhood steeped in black liberation Christianity to his doctoral studies, identifying and dispelling the layers of racist thought under which he had operated. “Internalized racism,” he writes, “is the real Black on Black Crime.” Kendi methodically examines racism through numerous lenses: power, biology, ethnicity, body, culture, and so forth, all the way to the intersectional constructs of gender racism and queer racism (the only section of the book that feels rushed). Each chapter examines one facet of racism, the authorial camera alternately zooming in on an episode from Kendi’s life that exemplifies it—e.g., as a teen, he wore light-colored contact lenses, wanting “to be Black but…not…to look Black”—and then panning to the history that informs it (the antebellum hierarchy that valued light skin over dark). The author then reframes those received ideas with inexorable logic: “Either racist policy or Black inferiority explains why White people are wealthier, healthier, and more powerful than Black people today.” If Kendi is justifiably hard on America, he’s just as hard on himself. When he began college, “anti-Black racist ideas covered my freshman eyes like my orange contacts.” This unsparing honesty helps readers, both white and people of color, navigate this difficult intellectual territory.

Not an easy read but an essential one.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-50928-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 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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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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