A lyrical but somewhat distracted narrative that can’t decide whether it’s a love story, a meditation on our lives on this...

A gifted writer describes the ebbs and flows of the arc of a romantic relationship while exploring her own bond to the American heartland.

Bair (One Degree West: Reflections of a Plainsdaughter, 2000) explores her inner emotional life in this spare memoir that eventually becomes equal parts Robert James Waller romance novel, William Least Heat-Moon road show and agricultural exposé memorializing the painful legacy of the independent American farmer. The author begins with her memories of a childhood on the farm in remote Kansas. Returning home after years in metropolitan San Francisco, Bair felt like a stranger in a strange land until she met Ward, a laconic, closeted intellectual rancher who ignited a fire in this single mother. In subsequent sections, we experience Bair’s combative relationship with her son, Jake, to whom Ward represented a potential last chance at a father figure. Coming home, Bair worked with her family to preserve the large industrial farm that had become their family legacy but was faced with the harsh reality that their livelihood contributes to the rapid depletion of the Ogallala aquifer, which supplies over a quarter of America’s irrigated land with water—not to mention the fact that the farm’s fate was being decided on the eve of the ethanol boom. Bair offers an unblinking look at a woman’s place in a patriarchal culture. “A father for Jake, a farmer for Dad,” the author laments. “That’s why the time I’d spend helping Dad during Jake’s toddlerhood had seemed so healing. I had proven I could be that farmer if I wanted to, and Dad had accepted that I could. I rejected all those sexist implications, asserted my own truths, became equal in my own right, but look at me now.”

A lyrical but somewhat distracted narrative that can’t decide whether it’s a love story, a meditation on our lives on this planet or an attempt to follow Upton Sinclair into the depths.

Pub Date: March 10, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-670-78604-6

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Jan. 8, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2014


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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