A sensitive chronicle of a biographer’s search for truth.

An intimate look at the life and loves of Carson McCullers (1917-1967).

“To tell another person’s story,” Shapland observes in her deft, graceful literary debut, “a writer must make that person some version of herself, must find a way to inhabit her.” The author knew little about McCullers before she became an intern at the Harry Ransom Center, a repository for writers’ and artists’ archives at the University of Texas. Responding to a scholar’s request, she discovered eight letters from Swiss writer and photographer Annemarie Schwarzenbach to McCullers that struck Shapland immediately as “intimate, suggestive” love letters. For Shapland, at the time suffering the end of a “major, slow-burning catastrophe,” the letters marked a “turning point.” Within a week, she cut her hair short. “Within a year,” she writes, “I would be more or less comfortably calling myself a lesbian for the first time.” The letters inspired further research, focused especially on McCullers’ sexuality, about which Shapland found intriguing evidence in transcripts of her taped therapy sessions with Dr. Mary Mercer, begun when McCullers was 41 and which McCullers described “as an attempt of writing her autobiography.” In addition, following the sessions, McCullers wrote letters to Mercer “awash in the joy of self-revelation” and her “love for Dr. Mary.” The more Shapland discovered about McCullers, the more convinced she became that McCullers was a lesbian who had been intensely in love with several women. Identifying with McCullers “as a writer, as a queer person, as a chronically ill person,” Shapland felt she had special insight into her subject’s life. At the same time, looking to McCullers “as a role model,” she wondered if she was “reading into her queerness”: imposing her own life story, and her own needs, on McCullers, in part to rescue her from “retroactive closeting by peers and biographers.” Shapland interweaves candid self-questioning and revealing personal stories with a nuanced portrait of a writer who confessed her loves were “untouchable” and her feelings “inarticulable.”

A sensitive chronicle of a biographer’s search for truth.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-947793-28-6

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Tin House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2019


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 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998


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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