An intriguing hybrid: part biography, part creative interrogation/reimagination of the life of an elusive Irishwoman who lived among the Aborigines in the Australian outback during the first half of the 20th century. How do you write a biography of a figure who relentlessly changed the facts of her life along the way, yet whose copious diary entries were full of intimate details about her sojourn among the Aborigines? Blackburn (The Emperor's Last Stand, not reviewed) attempts various literary and research stratagems—chief among them being her admitting that it is impossible to know much with certainty: ``Daisy Bates was a liar, of that I am sure, but the extent and the exact details of her lies remain a difficult territory for which no good maps have survived.'' As Blackburn's account of her attempt to uncover the facts about Bates gets interlaced with suppositions, false hints, and inconsistencies, the author more and more consciously identifies with her subject. We know Bates was given a government grant to study the Aborigines' customs, that she learned the language of the various totem clans, argued staunchly in the face of skeptics that they were cannibalistic, championed their rights to a large area undisturbed by whites, and lived with them in relative isolation for over 30 years. But even when the narrative goes from the first person of Blackburn as self-conscious biographer to the long central section in the reconstructed voice of Bates herself, we never learn too much about the relation of the Aborigines to Kabbarli (meaning grandmother), as Bates was called by them. Among the most fully pieced-together experiences are the ceremony in which she was made the ``Keeper of the Totems'' and the building of the transcontinental railroad through the Great Victoria Desert, which hastened the destruction of the land and the indigenous culture. A cryptic exploration into the avowedly subjective, murky terrain called biography, with occasional lyrical insights.

Pub Date: Aug. 17, 1994

ISBN: 0-679-42001-0

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 1994


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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