CROSSING MANDELBAUM GATE

COMING OF AGE BETWEEN THE ARABS AND ISRAELIS, 1956-1978

If one person’s story can shed light on a larger history, Bird’s memoir carries many excellent lessons.

A wise, intimate memoir about growing up the son of an American foreign-service officer in the Middle East, from Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Bird (co-author, American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer, 2005, etc.).

Titled after the gate between East and West Jerusalem, the story moves from the arrival of the author’s family in Jerusalem in 1956, where his father, Eugene Bird, was appointed, through his stints in Dhahran and Cairo, until the Americans were expelled by Gamal Nasser after the Naksa (“setback”) of Israel’s 1967 territorial conquest. The family spent some time in Beirut, as well, and later in Bombay, and the author studied at the American University of Beirut in the early ’70s and became an anti–Vietnam War activist. Born in 1951, Bird came of age among Arabs and Jews, and he offers unique insights into the deepening animosities that he witnessed firsthand. Although the family was thrilled to be inhabiting the Holy Land, with friends from all sectors (the father studied Arabic), they soon soured on the idea of Zionism, which they saw as the forcible seizure of much of Palestine “by threat, murder, pillage.” In Dhahran, they lived among a tightly contained colony of 2,500 Americans employed by Aramco, a company that was patronizing toward the Saudi workers and felt the “winds of Arab nationalism” in the form of strikes. While in Cairo, Bird observed how a truly cosmopolitan city gradually grew autocratic under Nasser and anti-Semitic in the wake of Israeli aggression. The author’s richly layered cultural narrative finds incisive lessons in the careers of Nasser and the Saudi royal family, the PLO hijackings of September 1970—Bird’s girlfriend was aboard one plane—and the journey of Holocaust survivors in establishing “the Hebrew Republic” of Israel.

If one person’s story can shed light on a larger history, Bird’s memoir carries many excellent lessons.

Pub Date: April 27, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-4165-4440-1

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Dec. 27, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2010

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

THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS

FROM MEAN STREETS TO WALL STREET

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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