Abundant primary sources inform James’ sharply drawn, sympathetic portraits.



Six artists in quest of the exotic.

Throughout his career, novelist, cultural critic, and travel writer James (Rimbaud in Java: The Last Voyage, 2011, etc.) was drawn by “the romantic allure” of the mysterious and remote; since 1999, the Houston-born writer has made a home in Indonesia. Like the artists he profiles in this richly detailed, absorbing cultural history, the author well understands the motivation of “exotes,” “an elite group of travelers who seek to immerse themselves in otherness.” His major focus is on painters Paul Gauguin, Walter Spies, and Raden Saleh; writers Isabelle Eberhardt and Victor Segalen; and filmmaker Maya Deren. All from different places, they shared a cosmopolitan background, confused cultural identity, unconventional private lives, and an overwhelming desire to reinvent themselves. Gauguin, “sexually frustrated and perpetually in debt,” left France for Tahiti, intent on starting a new, liberated life but always with an eye on the Paris art market. James sees him as “a pioneer of a new vision of travel as a one-way proposition.” Like Rimbaud before him and Spies after, he was motivated “more by a disgust with the homeland than by an informed attraction to the new home.” Unlike James’ other subjects, who fled from the stultifying materialism of Western culture, Saleh, “an enthusiast who fervently idealized Europe and European ways,” left Java for Germany, where he became a dandy, painting and socializing with aristocrats. Handsome, blond Spies left his famous lover, filmmaker F.W. Murnau, in Germany when he sailed to Bali, where he “created a cosmopolitan social whirl of his own,” with guests who included Charlie Chaplin, Noel Coward, and Leopold Stokowski. James does not argue for the artistic greatness of his lesser-known characters, but they prove to him “that cultural identity can be a choice,” pursued with joy.

Abundant primary sources inform James’ sharply drawn, sympathetic portraits.

Pub Date: Aug. 9, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-374-16335-8

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 2, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2016

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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 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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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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