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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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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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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