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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 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1998

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NIGHT

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

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INTO THE WILD

A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor...

The excruciating story of a young man on a quest for knowledge and experience, a search that eventually cooked his goose, told with the flair of a seasoned investigative reporter by Outside magazine contributing editor Krakauer (Eiger Dreams, 1990). 

Chris McCandless loved the road, the unadorned life, the Tolstoyan call to asceticism. After graduating college, he took off on another of his long destinationless journeys, this time cutting all contact with his family and changing his name to Alex Supertramp. He was a gent of strong opinions, and he shared them with those he met: "You must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life''; "be nomadic.'' Ultimately, in 1992, his terms got him into mortal trouble when he ran up against something—the Alaskan wild—that didn't give a hoot about Supertramp's worldview; his decomposed corpse was found 16 weeks after he entered the bush. Many people felt McCandless was just a hubris-laden jerk with a death wish (he had discarded his map before going into the wild and brought no food but a bag of rice). Krakauer thought not. Admitting an interest that bordered on obsession, he dug deep into McCandless's life. He found a willful, reckless, moody boyhood; an ugly little secret that sundered the relationship between father and son; a moral absolutism that agitated the young man's soul and drove him to extremes; but he was no more a nutcase than other pilgrims. Writing in supple, electric prose, Krakauer tries to make sense of McCandless (while scrupulously avoiding off-the-rack psychoanalysis): his risky behavior and the rites associated with it, his asceticism, his love of wide open spaces, the flights of his soul.

A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor will it to readers of Krakauer's narrative. (4 maps) (First printing of 35,000; author tour)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-42850-X

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Villard

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1995

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