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The author of Catch-22 and five other novels looks back on the Brooklyn streets that spawned his twisted sense of humor. It somehow seems appropriate that a comic sensibility as acerbic and astringent as Heller's should have arisen a few blocks from America's most famous amusement park, Coney Island. The first half of this memoir, which is about his childhood, is surprisingly warm and elegiac, burnished with a golden air of nostalgia that is seldom found in his other writing. Heller's family dynamic was an odd one; his father died when he was only five, and his older siblings were the products of their father's earlier marriage. But despite a lack of blood ties and a nearly 15-year gap between Heller and his big brother and sister, this slightly skewed family unit was apparently loving and supportive. The Depression was, as he makes abundantly clear, a good time to grow up in Coney Island, a time when kids could roam the streets safely into the night, when ethnic and racial strife was relatively subdued (at least as a young boy perceived it), and he clearly made the most of it. The book's first chapters are redolent of summer days on the sand and punchball in the streets, the awkwardness of growing into adolescence with its many mysteries. With the coming of age that accompanies working lifeHeller's first job as a Western Union delivery boy came when he was 16the book turns every bit as sardonic as his best fiction, and it remains thus for his recounting of his experiences of work, wartime, and early struggles as a writer. Essentially a series of essays linked by leitmotifs of food and mortality, Now and Then is graced with a self-deprecating humor that contains a certain spikiness but also suggests that Heller would be a good guy to have a few beers with. (A sequel is promised within the pages of this volume.) Knowing, winningly funny, and engagingly bittersweet.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-375-40062-1

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1998

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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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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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