THE BAD DAUGHTER

A disquieting and gripping memoir on what the author rightly calls a “taboo story”: a child’s abandonment of a parent in desperate need—here, a mother afflicted at age 48 with early-onset Alzheimer’s. A Yale-trained attorney living in Washington, D.C., Hilden portrays her mother, who was divorced when the author was a young girl, as very emotionally distant and alcoholic even before the disease took hold. Hilden felt that as her mother slipped into the terrible “death in life, this half-way state” of increasing confusion, then dementia and incontinence, she had to free herself entirely from her mother’s orbit and from any caretaking responsibilities. Recoiling from “fear and revulsion at what a body can become,” she made a complete break to create a life for herself—the author only visited her mother, after many years of separation, during the last days of her life. Hilden writes movingly about her decision’s implications for her other relationships, especially her repeated difficulties becoming close to, boyfriends (on whom she sometimes cheated). She is unblinkingly honest in analyzing herself, noting how leaving her mother and never looking back until the end was both emotionally freeing and crippling. In relationships, “I had the dubious, valuable skill of leaving,” while study and then working hard reinforced “the myth of myself as an efficient academic machine,” an often reality-based self-perception that “consoled me all my life.” Hilden never deeply probes the ethical implications of her decision, from which she maintains a certain cool, rational distance and which she unambiguously reaffirms as necessary at the book’s end. But she does write evocatively, often in short, punchy sentences, about her mother’s very difficult pre-Alzheimer’s personality, the disease’s irredeemable ugliness, and her own sometimes “ruthless” personality. While Hilden does not come across as a responsible daughter or even, much of the time, as a terribly likable person, she unquestionably is a skillful, unsparing practitioner of the art of confessional autobiography.

Pub Date: April 28, 1998

ISBN: 1-56512-185-6

Page Count: 210

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1998

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 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...

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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