A creative, rambling blend of memoir, fiction, and essay.

Novelist Wideman (The Cattle Killing, 1996, etc.) uses basketball as a doorway through which to glimpse black manhood.

Probing his memories and childhood for a larger meaning, as he did in such previous memoirs as Fatheralong (1994), Wideman focuses on basketball as a thread that ties together his past and present. It’s his present-day decision to stop playing that takes author and readers back to the summer when he first learned the game. With his father absent and his grandfather dead, the boy went to the basketball court to find what his mother and grandmother could not provide. In his interpretation (thankfully free of the hokum baseball seems to inspire in writers), playground games were rites of passage: not only did players measure their physical growth against others, they established seniority and passed on rules and etiquette that became marks of belonging. This is not a conventional memoir. Wideman also includes a paradigmatic short story entitled “Who Invented the Jump Shot (A Fable)” about a black dimwit who invents CPR only to be hung for touching a white woman; an argument for basketball as folk art; and a call to rename his childhood playground for two local legends. The latter is a particularly effective piece: Wideman makes archetypal giants of men already born large enough to excel at basketball, and in calling for a new name he looks forward to a future with black-defined meaning while evoking the past of Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, and Malcolm X. Each chapter displays Wideman’s range as a writer and gives the text a richness that the well-trod field of memoir could not provide alone. He takes a lot of risks, but not always successfully. At points the narrative is needlessly vague and staccato, and Wideman’s interpretations of basketball are sometimes clouded by his love of the game. Still, a few missed shots are acceptable in both basketball and books.

A creative, rambling blend of memoir, fiction, and essay.

Pub Date: Oct. 10, 2001

ISBN: 0-395-85731-7

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2001


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



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

Close Quickview