Ponderously serious book about a California cult upheaval that prefigured the better-known rage of hippie bohemianism. Applying the full academic treatment, self-described historian Maynard, a Californian, delivers a defeating book that seems always to be promising a breakthrough for its beatnik subjects—and yet releases them only in death. There are some fast pages midway where the beatniks of Venice West attain a single season in the sun, but the public appetite for fads moves on, and the town goes into a long, lingering death rattle that cannot lift Maynard's literary sociology into brilliance and great humor. Venice was founded in 1905 ``as a genteel retreat for esthetically-minded Los Angeles businessmen'' and quickly became ``the Coney Island of the West.'' The ocean-front town was built in imitation of Venice, Italy, with a Grand Canal, Bridge of Sighs, miles of canals, and imported Venetian gondolas. It was much in decay by the late 1950's (Orson Welles used it as the vile bordertown in 1958's Touch of Evil), when Lawrence Lipton was readying his research on his fellow Venice bohemians, to be called The Holy Barbarians. Lipton—who seems to have been an oddly repulsive fellow—surrounded himself with callow, unformed poets, wanted to make a big statement of his opinions, and chose to ride his friends as a hobbyhorse for his breast-beating and tub-thumping. Alas for Lipton, the Kerouac/Ginsberg axis stole much of his thunder, and Venice West never achieved quite the recognition of Haight Ashbury. Despite some early ink in Life magazine and time on TV, which suddenly threw a hot spotlight on Venice, the town soon closed up as a beat enclave and its greatest literary lights (dim bulbs all) could not survive drugs, cancer, madness, or old age. What should have been a lively, eccentric book wilts under a pall of dreary sociology.

Pub Date: May 20, 1991

ISBN: 0-8135-1653-6

Page Count: 264

Publisher: Rutgers Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 1991

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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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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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