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FATHERALONG

A MEDITATION ON FATHERS AND SONS, RACE AND SOCIETY

Six discursive, stirring autobiographical essays wrestle with the social definitions foisted on the author as a black man and situate him within his own personal experiences and the collective history of his kin. Grief, hope, and contemplation fill these pages as Wideman (Philadelphia Fire, 1990, etc.) unburdens his heart on the subjects of manhood, racial prejudice, fatherhood, and family heritage. Deceptively short and readable, these are not simple essays. Each is structured around the same two-part process: identifying the ways in which the "paradigm of race" destroys African-American pride, love, communication, and history, creating distance between fathers and sons; then addressing the ways this distance ought to be overcome. "Because we don't talk or can't talk father to son, son to father, each generation approaches the task of becoming men as if no work has been accomplished before," writes Wideman. "Imagine how different we might be if we really listened to our fathers' stories." His own parents were divorced, and he describes his relationship with his father as by turns estranged, distant, painful, and loving. The best piece by far is the title essay, which incorporates his finest thoughts on subjects discussed in the other five and achieves a clarity they sometimes lack. In it, Wideman explains that as a boy wanting to be closer to his dad he always heard the church hymn phrase "farther along we'll know more about you" as "father along." Among the highlights is a description of a pilgrimage he and his father made to South Carolina to search for family roots. In his prose, Wideman displays an uncanny gift for conjuring up a potent single image: "My mother's open arms. My father's arms crossed on his chest." This book will frustrate readers, however, as Wideman fails to do more than allude to his own son, who killed a teenage camp mate. Earnest, artful, hopeful, angry, and proud, Wideman's lovely book contains the seeds of promise for a world where black children have a rich wellspring of history to draw from, and where there's "enough love for everybody."

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1994

ISBN: 0-679-40720-0

Page Count: 216

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1994

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THE ESCAPE ARTIST

A vivid sequel that strains credulity.

Fremont (After Long Silence, 1999) continues—and alters—her story of how memories of the Holocaust affected her family.

At the age of 44, the author learned that her father had disowned her, declaring her “predeceased”—or dead in his eyes—in his will. It was his final insult: Her parents had stopped speaking to her after she’d published After Long Silence, which exposed them as Jewish Holocaust survivors who had posed as Catholics in Europe and America in order to hide multilayered secrets. Here, Fremont delves further into her tortured family dynamics and shows how the rift developed. One thread centers on her life after her harrowing childhood: her education at Wellesley and Boston University, the loss of her virginity to a college boyfriend before accepting her lesbianism, her stint with the Peace Corps in Lesotho, and her decades of work as a lawyer in Boston. Another strand involves her fraught relationship with her sister, Lara, and how their difficulties relate to their father, a doctor embittered after years in the Siberian gulag; and their mother, deeply enmeshed with her own sister, Zosia, who had married an Italian count and stayed in Rome to raise a child. Fremont tells these stories with novelistic flair, ending with a surprising theory about why her parents hid their Judaism. Yet she often appears insensitive to the serious problems she says Lara once faced, including suicidal depression. “The whole point of suicide, I thought, was to succeed at it,” she writes. “My sister’s completion rate was pathetic.” Key facts also differ from those in her earlier work. After Long Silence says, for example, that the author grew up “in a small city in the Midwest” while she writes here that she grew up in “upstate New York,” changes Fremont says she made for “consistency” in the new book but that muddy its narrative waters. The discrepancies may not bother readers seeking psychological insights rather than factual accuracy, but others will wonder if this book should have been labeled a fictionalized autobiography rather than a memoir.

A vivid sequel that strains credulity.

Pub Date: Feb. 11, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-982113-60-5

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Oct. 20, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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STRONG MOTHERS, STRONG SONS

LESSONS MOTHERS NEED TO RAISE EXTRAORDINARY MEN

Solid, practical advice for women on how to properly nurture their sons.

How women can raise boys to become good men.

More than ever, women are under pressure to be "everything to everyone," writes Meeker (The 10 Habits of Happy Mothers: Reclaiming Our Passion, Purpose, and Sanity, 2010, etc.), as "working women feel that they must perform equally well both in the office and in caring for their home, husband, and children." The dynamics of raising boys is especially difficult for women due to the gender difference and the fact that women tend to be nurturing and helpful while allowing their sons to evolve into men in a constantly shifting masculine paradigm. Through research and interviews from her own practice, Meeker gives women the necessary tools to understand that perfection is not a realistic goal but that doing the best one can will ensure good results. Equally useful to single mothers and women with husbands is the advice that sons need to know they are loved from a very young age, as this builds a foundation of confidence in a child, a base that allows a boy to gradually move away from his mother as he interacts with male peers and elders. A boy's home life must be solid: a safe haven to return to regardless of his age, a place where his thoughts and feelings are respected and where he can express his hopes and dreams without fear of judgment. Meeker recommends introducing boys to religion, prayer and the unconditional love that comes from having a strong faith to boost self-confidence. She also skillfully navigates the world of sex—from a boy's first body awareness to the powerful effects of pornography and sexual messages embedded in social media, video games and news media, to his interactions in the world of girls and women. A mother's imprint on her son is powerful right from birth and remains so throughout her son's life. Meeker's advice gives women the tools to navigate these often rocky waters with confidence.

Solid, practical advice for women on how to properly nurture their sons.

Pub Date: April 8, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-345-51809-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2014

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