Exquisitely paced, masterful storytelling.

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ALMOST A FAMILY

A MEMOIR

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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An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

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BECOMING

The former first lady opens up about her early life, her journey to the White House, and the eight history-making years that followed.

It’s not surprising that Obama grew up a rambunctious kid with a stubborn streak and an “I’ll show you” attitude. After all, it takes a special kind of moxie to survive being the first African-American FLOTUS—and not only survive, but thrive. For eight years, we witnessed the adversity the first family had to face, and now we get to read what it was really like growing up in a working-class family on Chicago’s South Side and ending up at the world’s most famous address. As the author amply shows, her can-do attitude was daunted at times by racism, leaving her wondering if she was good enough. Nevertheless, she persisted, graduating from Chicago’s first magnet high school, Princeton, and Harvard Law School, and pursuing careers in law and the nonprofit world. With her characteristic candor and dry wit, she recounts the story of her fateful meeting with her future husband. Once they were officially a couple, her feelings for him turned into a “toppling blast of lust, gratitude, fulfillment, wonder.” But for someone with a “natural resistance to chaos,” being the wife of an ambitious politician was no small feat, and becoming a mother along the way added another layer of complexity. Throw a presidential campaign into the mix, and even the most assured woman could begin to crack under the pressure. Later, adjusting to life in the White House was a formidable challenge for the self-described “control freak”—not to mention the difficulty of sparing their daughters the ugly side of politics and preserving their privacy as much as possible. Through it all, Obama remained determined to serve with grace and help others through initiatives like the White House garden and her campaign to fight childhood obesity. And even though she deems herself “not a political person,” she shares frank thoughts about the 2016 election.

An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6313-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 30, 2018

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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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