A gripping real-life tale of extraordinary courage that had an enduring impact.

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LIFE IN A JAR

THE IRENA SENDLER PROJECT

Kansas teenagers rediscover a forgotten Holocaust heroine in this moving historical drama, based on a true story.

Irena Sendler, a Catholic welfare bureaucrat in German-occupied Poland, saved thousands of Jewish children during World War II by organizing a network that smuggled them out of the Warsaw Ghetto to live in convents, orphanages and private homes. Mayer’s superb novelization of her exploits elevates social work to the intensity of a spy thriller. Posing as a nurse, Sendler carries youngsters out in boxes and bags, hides them under soiled dressings and piles of corpses headed for the cemetery or secrets them away in a truck equipped with a dog trained to bark over their cries. She coolly bribes and bluffs her way past guards, though discovery means execution. In the midst of this deadly caper, Irena registers the horrors of the ghetto—the pitiless struggle for food, the families that quietly die off from starvation and the anguish of parents who realize they can save their children only by giving them up forever. (Sendler buried lists of children’s names and locations in jars, hoping to reunite them with parents, but most of their families perished.) Writing in vivid but restrained prose, Mayer describes this agonizing situation with understated pathos. In one spare, heartbreaking scene, a mother flings her infant blindly over the ghetto wall to the “Aryan” side as the last Jews are rounded up for transit to death camps. The author frames Irena’s saga inside an account of three Kansas high-school girls who wrote the titular playlet about her in 2000 as a class project that became an international sensation. As the teens try to imagine Irena’s unfathomably different circumstances, they find that her life resonates with their experiences of loss and shattered families. Mayer’s narrative eventually loses its way amid the hoopla over the Irena Sendler Project, but his rendition of Irena’s story has an inspirational power of its own.

A gripping real-life tale of extraordinary courage that had an enduring impact.

Pub Date: March 28, 2011

ISBN: 978-0984111312

Page Count: 382

Publisher: Long Trail

Review Posted Online: July 11, 2011

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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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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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