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ALMOST A FAMILY

A MEMOIR

Exquisitely paced, masterful storytelling.

A George Polk Award– and Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist skillfully investigates the history of his family, recovering the life of the father he never knew.

Near the end of this affecting memoir, veteran New York Times correspondent Darnton (Black and White and Dead All Over, 2008, etc.) marvels at the “difference that one little sliver of shrapnel meant to our lives.” He’s referring first to the bomb fragment that killed his father, NYT correspondent Barney Darnton, during World War II, and second to his mother “Tootie,” brother Bob and himself, only 11 months old when Barney died. Not until 60 years later, after decades of romanticizing and mythologizing his father, did John set out to discover just who Barney really was. The man he unearths is far different from the idealized figure in his head, the entire excavation complicated by the layers of silence or fabrication Tootie supplied her boys as she buckled under the pressures of single-parenting, moving to a succession of increasingly modest homes and assuming a string of important and then less-worthy jobs, losing them not to the “grogginess” she complained of, but rather to alcoholism. Darnton chronicles how he and his brother grew and coped, but mostly he focuses on his parents, and especially the search for Barney. From notebooks, clip files, letters and government archives, the author assembles a picture of his father, and he learns even more from numerous interviews with his parents’ colleagues, friends and family members. He journeys across America, to an island off Scotland and to the New Guinea beach where Barney’s corpse was canoed ashore—he interviews the soldier horrified by handling that bloody detail and a native, only six at the time, who witnessed the aerial attack—following leads as far as possible, seeking only the truth. The facts he uncovers—about his father’s character, about the incident that killed him, about his parents’ meeting—are often uncomfortable, but, thirsty for honest answers, he faithfully reports what he learns.

Exquisitely paced, masterful storytelling.

Pub Date: March 17, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-307-26617-0

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2010

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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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THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS

FROM MEAN STREETS TO WALL STREET

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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