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A VIEW OF THE OCEAN

A diminutive masterpiece.

Posthumous love letter to the author’s mother.

Prolific Dutch-born novelist de Hartog (The Outer Buoy: A Story of the Ultimate Voyage, 1994, etc.), who died in 2002, tells the story of a quiet, self-effacingly heroic woman in prose to match. (He never even tells us his mother’s name.) She was in her early 20s when she met and married Arnold de Hartog, a Protestant pastor and theologian two decades her senior who is still remembered for his anti-Nazi agitation and a speech he made in support of the Jews just before the outbreak of World War II. When he died in 1938, two years before the Nazi invasion of Holland, the family was thrown into chaos. Jan’s mother was visiting his older brother in the Dutch East Indies, which was soon captured by the Japanese. It was in an internment camp that the woman who had always seemed to exist to support her fiery husband finally came into her own, displaying a steely strength her sons had never suspected. While imprisoned, she not only provided spiritual succor to her fellow detainees, occasionally in the form of eerily prescient palm readings that earned her the nickname “mischievous saint,” but also brokered a cease-fire between the Dutch army and Indonesian guerrilla fighters who allowed a convoy of sick female prisoners to be carried through the jungle to a Red Cross station. De Hartog heard these stories from others; he only truly began to know his mother for himself 20 years later, when she was diagnosed with stomach cancer. As he despaired, her modest bravery and steadfast faith again sustained him. The book is remarkable not just for its exceptional subject, but also for its portrait of the unsettling process by which an adult child comes at last to know a parent.

A diminutive masterpiece.

Pub Date: Nov. 27, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-375-42470-0

Page Count: 112

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2007

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NIGHT

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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INTO THE WILD

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

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 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1995

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