STRANGER ON A TRAIN

Wry, graceful commentary on the oddity of the human condition.

A British writer in search of solitude takes two epic train journeys across the US, only to find herself inexorably drawn into a community of strangers.

Despite an initial claim that her ideal methodology for a travel book would be “to stay at home with the phone off the hook, the doorbell disconnected, and the blinds drawn,” Diski (Skating to Antarctica, 1995, etc.) determines to explore her inner landscape by taking a journey to nowhere in particular and books herself passage on a freighter from England to America, where she takes an Amtrak train from Florida to Tucson. A year later, she returns once more to circumnavigate the US by rail. The three journeys are bound up into a single narrative with two constants: the author’s need to find the smoking car, and the inevitability of connection with her fellow travelers. Be it in the dining room of the freighter where she learns of the death of another passenger’s son, on a train platform in Sacramento where a fellow named “Big Daddy” teaches her a dance routine from The Sound of Music, or in a smoking car where the attributes of leprechauns and pixies are debated, Diski is constantly rediscovering the dangers and seductions of spending time with others. In this temporary and happenstance community, she finds, people's stories tend to tumble out in the first few minutes of conversation. And as the scenery slides by—North Dakota prairie, southwestern desert, southern sugar-cane fields—the author makes a parallel journey through the scenery of her past, visiting the unhappy rooms of her childhood, the psychiatric wards and foster homes of her adolescence. Somehow, this weight of memories and current tragedies (a large number of her fellow travelers seem to be going to or coming from funerals) is anything but oppressive.

Wry, graceful commentary on the oddity of the human condition.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2002

ISBN: 0-312-28352-0

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Picador

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2002

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THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

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

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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