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Sometimes gonzo, sometimes hard-charging—a welcome report from the front lines in a time of torment and hope.

A then newly minted journalist recounts her sojourn in the one-time Soviet Union, a tumultuous empire desperately searching for its identity.

"The year is 1998, and newspapers are still being read,” writes California-based freelancer Cengel (Exiled: From the Killing Fields of Cambodia to California and Back, 2018, etc.). Looking for a job, the author answered an ad and found herself reporting from the ashes of the former Soviet Union. It was a confusing but compelling place, as her lively narrative reveals. Cengel begins in the once-occupied Baltic republic of Latvia. She made her way to the Ukraine just in time to witness a number of historical events and their aftermaths. Latvia was a particularly unknown spot on the map, or at least in the author’s geography, and moving there was a rare and risky move that came at a time when “communication with far-off countries was less common than it is now.” She quickly made herself at home at a Riga newspaper; soon after that, with her “lurid fascination” for fraught human-interest stories, she became features editor. Among the stories she recounts is that of a gulag survivor who was determined to see the international community recognize and condemn the evils of the totalitarian system that packed him off to Siberia in a railroad car. Another is of a Ukrainian woman who, a slave laborer in Germany during World War II, returned there as a tourist: “It had happened; apologies would now mean nothing." Throughout, Cengel demonstrates a knack for finding compelling stories, including an on-the-ground report from Chernobyl at a time when engineers were still working to cap off the reactor with a cement sarcophagus, “an imperfect and semi-temporary solution” that all these years later remains in place. More than her stories, the author has a fine eye for the details of newsroom politics back when newspapers were read and newsrooms were packed with offbeat characters.

Sometimes gonzo, sometimes hard-charging—a welcome report from the front lines in a time of torment and hope.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-64012-204-8

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Potomac Books

Review Posted Online: Sept. 10, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2019

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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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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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