There just isn’t anything unusual enough about the author’s experiences and perceptions to make this more than a...

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THE VIRGIN OF BENNINGTON

Poet and nonfiction author Norris (The Cloister Walk, 1996, etc.) focuses in this autobiography on her years at Bennington College in the mid-1960s and a subsequent period of maturation in New York City.

Notorious for its atmosphere of sexual promiscuity, drugs, and bohemian liberalism, Bennington seemed a bad fit for a shy girl from Honolulu whose most cherished entertainments consisted of reading and singing in the church choir. Dubbed by her college mates “the Virgin of Bennington,” Norris spent four years in self-imposed isolation, composing verse largely out of a need for “protective coloration” in a world that seemed to have little place for her. Poetry was a defense mechanism against the intrusion of coarse reality, claims Norris, who had her first sexual experience with another girl and later became the lover of a married professor. Moving to New York after graduation, she took a job at the Academy of American Poets, performing menial secretarial tasks but benefiting from the opportunity to attend poetry readings and meet stars of the literary demimonde. Persistently describing herself as too bashful to venture out to a Manhattan grocery store, in the same breath the author portrays all-night binges in the bars and poets’ lofts she frequented, sometimes to the detriment of her daytime responsibilities. More interesting than her panorama of New York’s unbridled bohemian lifestyle is Norris’s tribute to mentor and friend Betty Kray, executive director of the AAP. Committed to helping struggling writers through grants and awards, Kray nourished many native talents while also promoting foreign celebrities. Convinced of Kray’s decisive role in her own creative development, Norris mulls over their friendship and Betty’s selfless devotion to the verbal art.

There just isn’t anything unusual enough about the author’s experiences and perceptions to make this more than a near-stereotypical tale of a provincial American emerging from a sheltered, small-town environment to confront the dangers and temptations of a big metropolis.

Pub Date: April 1, 2001

ISBN: 1-57322-179-1

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2001

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An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

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BECOMING

The former first lady opens up about her early life, her journey to the White House, and the eight history-making years that followed.

It’s not surprising that Obama grew up a rambunctious kid with a stubborn streak and an “I’ll show you” attitude. After all, it takes a special kind of moxie to survive being the first African-American FLOTUS—and not only survive, but thrive. For eight years, we witnessed the adversity the first family had to face, and now we get to read what it was really like growing up in a working-class family on Chicago’s South Side and ending up at the world’s most famous address. As the author amply shows, her can-do attitude was daunted at times by racism, leaving her wondering if she was good enough. Nevertheless, she persisted, graduating from Chicago’s first magnet high school, Princeton, and Harvard Law School, and pursuing careers in law and the nonprofit world. With her characteristic candor and dry wit, she recounts the story of her fateful meeting with her future husband. Once they were officially a couple, her feelings for him turned into a “toppling blast of lust, gratitude, fulfillment, wonder.” But for someone with a “natural resistance to chaos,” being the wife of an ambitious politician was no small feat, and becoming a mother along the way added another layer of complexity. Throw a presidential campaign into the mix, and even the most assured woman could begin to crack under the pressure. Later, adjusting to life in the White House was a formidable challenge for the self-described “control freak”—not to mention the difficulty of sparing their daughters the ugly side of politics and preserving their privacy as much as possible. Through it all, Obama remained determined to serve with grace and help others through initiatives like the White House garden and her campaign to fight childhood obesity. And even though she deems herself “not a political person,” she shares frank thoughts about the 2016 election.

An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6313-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 30, 2018

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

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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