Fond, charming snapshots from a lost age.

Anecdotes from a late-in-life writer revealing an unusual family history.

In her first book, Abell, who was born in 1925 and did not start writing until her 60s, offers a series of dispatches from her childhood. She has an engaging, straightforward style, and each chapter homes in on one aspect of her growing up in unusual places and her erratic parents. In the first piece, “Little Girl Tossed,” the author gives a lively sense of what was important to her 25-year-old parents in the fall of 1928—not her, apparently. Recent graduates of Columbia University and Barnard College, they used the gift of a Buick to quit their service jobs in New York City and head to New Orleans, sleeping in farmhouses along the way and working odd jobs. When Abell became an encumbrance, she was handed off to a farm wife for five weeks; while in New Orleans, she was tossed around by drunken guests at her parents’ Prohibition parties. Her father, an aspiring writer who took a job in Chicago because of pressure from his wife’s rich family, was an opaque, misunderstood presence in his daughter’s life. In “Zayde and Bubbe,” the author recalls how she was dumped at her Yiddish-speaking paternal grandparents’ farm in Connecticut for some weeks when she was 4; she bonded intensely with them but later learned that her father’s shame about them stemmed from his mother’s illiteracy. In one rather shocking episode when Abell was 12, her father, suffering from claustrophobia, asked her to take a walk with him, and in her imagination, he seemed to want to hurl her from the edge of a bluff—“He might push me over the edge and get rid of me forever to make his life better.” Elsewhere, Abell re-creates her astonishing overseas trip to Albania at age 5—where her maternal grandfather, Herman Bernstein, was the newly appointed ambassador—unaccompanied, of course, and playing up her status as a worldly “smartypants.”

Fond, charming snapshots from a lost age.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-9969726-5-9

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Passager Books

Review Posted Online: Sept. 13, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2017


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

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