An emotionally astute study that belies its length.




A brief introduction to the pioneering, cantankerous and oft-frustrated author.

This book, part of the publisher's series of short biographies of prominent African-Americans, isn't intended to deliver new information or surprising insights into the life and work of Richard Wright (1908–60). But given that the two major biographies of Wright surpass 600 pages, Wallach (African-American History/Univ. of North Texas) fills a gap, and it's no rush job. Though she speeds through the major touchstones of her subject's life, she takes time to make considered observations about the author's psyche. Wright's motivations were simple during his childhood. As a teenager his chief interest was escaping the grinding poverty of rural Mississippi, and his growing frustration with Southern racism pushed him to Memphis and later Chicago. Inspired by the ferocity he discovered in the writings of H.L. Mencken, Wright began working on poetry, essays and fiction, gaining a supportive community among Communist Party members during the 1920s and ’30s. In Harlem he wrote Native Son, his career-making 1940 novel about the struggles of a young black man in Chicago—though he made compromises in its tone and plot to win the approval of the Book-of-the-Month Club (and the bestseller status that came with it). Tellingly, Wallach's biography is more than half finished by the time Native Son makes Wright an international success, and what follows shows the author as increasingly combative and rudderless. He publicly broke with the Communist Party, saw his marriage fail thanks to his infidelities and bypassed the Civil Rights Movement in the United States to settle in France and speak out on racial injustice globally. Wallach efficiently captures this complicated period of Wright's life, setting his public statements of outrage against his private refusals to let more than a handful of people into his personal life, alienating even intimate protégés like Ralph Ellison. By the time of his death, Wright had spent years struggling to synthesize his thinking into a work as potent as Native Son, and though Wallach gives reasons to admire his later career, she convincingly argues that more affecting works might've been produced by a more compassionate man.

An emotionally astute study that belies its length.

Pub Date: June 16, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-56663-824-1

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Ivan Dee/Rowman & Littlefield

Review Posted Online: Dec. 28, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2010

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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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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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