Luzzi’s evocative personal history and incisive cultural critique illuminates the complex forces that have shaped his own...



Memoir from Luzzi (Italian/Bard Coll.; Romantic Europe and the Ghost of Italy, 2008, etc.), who, as the first American-born child of Italian immigrants, felt alienated from his parents’ roots.

Raised in suburban Rhode Island, educated at Tufts University and Yale, he felt closer to the aesthetically rarefied Italy of Dante and Michelangelo than to the poverty and superstition of his family’s native Calabria. There were two Italies, the poet Shelley had taught him, “one sublime and the other odious.” Popular media further fueled his “cultural schizophrenia,” with Italian-Americans portrayed as thugs in The Sopranos and The Godfather. Italian-American identity remains enigmatic, Luzzi believes, since “our pride in our ancestors grows with the distance we set between them and ourselves.” Attempting to bridge that distance, Luzzi embarked on a journey of discovery, examining the social, political and cultural differences between the wealthy, Europeanized north and the “carnal violence” of the south, his parents’ background, and his own fraught relationship with Florence, where he has lived. Family, he discovered, is central to Italian life. Mothers, for example, selflessly fulfill the needs of their sons well into adulthood. “In Italy,” Luzzi found, “unmarried men don’t cut the umbilical cord and apron strings; they stretch them out.” Family loyalty, though, prevents the formation of “informal civic traditions” that foster a sense of “national community.” Cynicism, coupled with a celebration of “the art of living rather than…the ties that bind” has resulted, Luzzi concludes, in “an unhealthy Italian body politic.” Italy today, writes the author, is mired in crisis: an aging population, deadening bureaucracy, rising unemployment and endless corruption.

Luzzi’s evocative personal history and incisive cultural critique illuminates the complex forces that have shaped his own identity. Being Italian and American, he comes to realize, has been both a bountiful gift and “an ethnic cross I had to bear.”

Pub Date: July 15, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-374-29869-2

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: April 14, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2014

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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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Bibliophiles will love this fact-filled, bookish journey.


An engaging, casual history of librarians and libraries and a famous one that burned down.

In her latest, New Yorker staff writer Orlean (Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend, 2011, etc.) seeks to “tell about a place I love that doesn’t belong to me but feels like it is mine.” It’s the story of the Los Angeles Public Library, poet Charles Bukowski’s “wondrous place,” and what happened to it on April 29, 1986: It burned down. The fire raged “for more than seven hours and reached temperatures of 2000 degrees…more than one million books were burned or damaged.” Though nobody was killed, 22 people were injured, and it took more than 3 million gallons of water to put it out. One of the firefighters on the scene said, “We thought we were looking at the bowels of hell….It was surreal.” Besides telling the story of the historic library and its destruction, the author recounts the intense arson investigation and provides an in-depth biography of the troubled young man who was arrested for starting it, actor Harry Peak. Orlean reminds us that library fires have been around since the Library of Alexandria; during World War II, “the Nazis alone destroyed an estimated hundred million books.” She continues, “destroying a culture’s books is sentencing it to something worse than death: It is sentencing it to seem as if it never happened.” The author also examines the library’s important role in the city since 1872 and the construction of the historic Goodhue Building in 1926. Orlean visited the current library and talked to many of the librarians, learning about their jobs and responsibilities, how libraries were a “solace in the Depression,” and the ongoing problems librarians face dealing with the homeless. The author speculates about Peak’s guilt but remains “confounded.” Maybe it was just an accident after all.

Bibliophiles will love this fact-filled, bookish journey.

Pub Date: Oct. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4018-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: July 2, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2018

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