A brutally unflinching look back at a dead-end youth that became a crucible for vivid and vital art.

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A PLACE TO STAND

THE MAKING OF A POET

A mercifully brief memoir of the Pushcart Prize– and American Book Award–winning Hispanic poet’s criminal past, and his agonizingly slow discovery of the redemptive power of writing while serving a prison term.

Born in New Mexico as the third child of an alcoholic father and philandering mother, Baca (Black Mesa Poems, not reviewed) was handed off at seven to his grandparents when his father disappeared and his mother ran off with another man—only to find himself in an orphanage when his grandfather died shortly thereafter. Early efforts at schooling failed, and the marginally literate Baca ran away and experimented with criminal behavior. Without any strong role models, fruitful employment, or defenses against anti-Hispanic bigotry, Baca, unusually strong for his youth, developed a vicious proficiency at streetfighting and deliberately resisted attempts by occasional benefactors to set him straight. When he discovered that his first lover was unfaithful to him, Baca drifted to California, where he was fired from his job as an unlicensed plumber after he refused the sexual advances of a housewife. In Arizona, a life as a drug dealer soon landed him a five-year sentence in Florence State Prison—an overcrowded, maximum-security facility where Baca turned to books as an escape and began writing angry, bitterly ironic poetry to purge himself of emotional turmoil. “I am Healing Earthquakes,” he writes in one of his early poems, “a man awakening to the day with a place to stand / And ground to defend.” After he was released, his attempts at reaching a reconciliation with surviving family members ended in horror when a brother died from alcoholism and his stepfather murdered his mother and then killed himself. Baca finally married, clinging to the love of his wife and his poetry “to give voice to the voiceless and hope to the hopeless, of which I am one.”

A brutally unflinching look back at a dead-end youth that became a crucible for vivid and vital art.

Pub Date: July 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-8021-1602-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2001

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

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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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

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 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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