Elegantly written and intermittently perceptive, though slightly self-indulgent in form and tone.

Essayist/novelist Kitchen (The House on Eccles Road, 2002, etc.) muses on memory, history and illness while rummaging through family photos.

The author writes that photos capture a physical moment, while memory re-creates the entire atmosphere: how we felt, what sounds we heard, all those things that hover out of the camera’s range. As she looks at the disk containing scanned copies of boxes of family snapshots, she is as interested in what they don’t show as what they do. Did 23-year-old Aunt Margaret, “Paris, 1938,” know that war was imminent? Why on earth would her mother be sitting at a desk with a lampshade over her head, and can she be sure it is her mother? Slowly, from these fragmented snatches of essays (ranging from a single paragraph to 30 pages), a picture of Kitchen’s family emerges: German-American immigrants on her father’s side, impoverished farmers on her mother’s. Her father, a physicist, was so repulsed by the anti-German hysteria he saw as a boy during World War I that he was a conscientious objector during WWII; her mother may have had a serious romance while visiting Europe in the summer of 1930. The section centered on photos from that trip is the book’s longest and least appealing; the author’s attitude seems punitive, as she criticizes the banality of her mother’s travel diary and faults the young woman for being insufficiently unconventional. It’s also aggravating, though clearly intended by Kitchen, that facts must be teased out from an extremely elliptical narrative: Where was the house that suffered floods in three different decades? Her father seems to have died young, but when exactly? Still, there are enough intriguing insights to maintain interest, and three meditative passages on the author’s battle with breast cancer will incline most readers to cut her some slack.

Elegantly written and intermittently perceptive, though slightly self-indulgent in form and tone.

Pub Date: April 3, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-56689-296-4

Page Count: 214

Publisher: Coffee House

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2012


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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