BOYHOOD

SCENES FROM PROVINCIAL LIFE

A short and unsettling, deftly realized memoir of the celebrated South African writer's childhood in the hinterlands. South African memoirs, whether written by blacks or whites, tend to have a thread of sameness woven through: a sense of time and landscape as forces that irrevocably shape the soul. Coetzee (The Master of Petersburg, 1994, etc.), is no exception. Writing at the remove of the third person, he looks back at his youth in the distant dorp of Worcester, recounting how he was formed by his surroundings. This is not an eventful memoir—it's strength comes, instead, from Coetzee's nuanced, unblinking perceptions. His childhood was not unhappy in the conventional sense; the sadness and tragedies were mainly of the ordinary kind, and in his masterful depiction of them, that's what makes them so shattering. All too clearly, we see his weak, hapless father and his mother who is slowly being pushed to the side of her life—a bad marriage, abandoned career, a son whom she loves absolutely but who is too stubborn and embarrassed to reciprocate. There is the uncalibrated cruelty of children, the heedlessness of adults, Coetzee's pervading sense of difference (magnified by his Afrikaans parents' decision to raise him as English-speaking): "Nothing he experiences in Worcester, at home or at school, leads him to think that childhood is anything but a time of gritting the teeth and enduring." The memoir leaves Coetzee on the cusp of adolescence—at the funeral of an old aunt, where he experiences a small, bittersweet epiphany that seems to herald his becoming a writer. Perhaps Coetzee has removed too much of himself—there is an unsolved distance throughout that keeps this memoir from quite realizing the fullness of its potential. Still, this is a powerful, disillusioned portrait of childhood and how, like South Africa, it encompasses both prelapsarian innocence and unconscionable evil.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1997

ISBN: 0-670-87220-2

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1997

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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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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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