It may puzzle readers of Son of the Morning Star and fans of They Died with Their Boots On, but this is an intriguing...

An eccentric though highly readable blend of history, travelogue, and memoir that follows a wobbly trail behind George Armstrong Custer’s globetrotting widow.

Enigmatic and a little shy, Libbie Custer was thrust into the spotlight following her husband’s conversion from war hero to greasy spot on the grass of the Little Big Horn, and for the next 60 years, she labored endlessly to rehabilitate Custer’s reputation while mixing uneasily with the crowned heads of Europe and the New York plutocracy. It was an uphill battle at the start, since, writes English novelist Poolman, even “President Grant, within a week of the disaster, was telling all who would listen that it was Custer who was responsible—and Custer alone—for the deaths of so many.” She did a reasonably good job of it, though Custer still has the checkered reputation in death that he did in life. Gracefully written, this is less a straightforward biography of Libbie Custer (who deserves one—after all, even Custer’s horse has been the subject of a booklength treatment) than an elliptical meditation on all sorts of matters of life and death, the moral lesson of which comes early on in Poolman’s pages: “Perhaps . . . the only thing to be learned from the memory in our lives of the dead is that they are there and we are here. Maybe life—death—really is as simple and as final as that.” Poolman follows a zigzag path across continents, seeking Libbie Custer, but, more, seeking himself through all kinds of lenses, including the blurry vision of his often drunk, Custer-obsessed father; in the end, while meditative, this is not without its humorous moments, and reminiscent of Ross McElwee’s curious documentary film Sherman’s March (1986)—and just as brilliant.

It may puzzle readers of Son of the Morning Star and fans of They Died with Their Boots On, but this is an intriguing addition to the Custer literature all the same.

Pub Date: Aug. 5, 2002

ISBN: 1-58234-121-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2002


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



Well-told and admonitory.

Young-rags-to-mature-riches memoir by broker and motivational speaker Gardner.

Born and raised in the Milwaukee ghetto, the author pulled himself up from considerable disadvantage. He was fatherless, and his adored mother wasn’t always around; once, as a child, he spied her at a family funeral accompanied by a prison guard. When beautiful, evanescent Moms was there, Chris also had to deal with Freddie “I ain’t your goddamn daddy!” Triplett, one of the meanest stepfathers in recent literature. Chris did “the dozens” with the homies, boosted a bit and in the course of youthful adventure was raped. His heroes were Miles Davis, James Brown and Muhammad Ali. Meanwhile, at the behest of Moms, he developed a fondness for reading. He joined the Navy and became a medic (preparing badass Marines for proctology), and a proficient lab technician. Moving up in San Francisco, married and then divorced, he sold medical supplies. He was recruited as a trainee at Dean Witter just around the time he became a homeless single father. All his belongings in a shopping cart, Gardner sometimes slept with his young son at the office (apparently undiscovered by the night cleaning crew). The two also frequently bedded down in a public restroom. After Gardner’s talents were finally appreciated by the firm of Bear Stearns, his American Dream became real. He got the cool duds, hot car and fine ladies so coveted from afar back in the day. He even had a meeting with Nelson Mandela. Through it all, he remained a prideful parent. His own no-daddy blues are gone now.

Well-told and admonitory.

Pub Date: June 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-06-074486-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2006

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