Earnest, often heartbreaking, but somehow still unsatisfying.



Novelist Jasper explores the roots and psyche of an African-American family.

As he approached his 30th year, the author (Seeking Salamanca Mitchell, 2004, etc.) had his view of fatherhood irrevocably challenged when his girlfriend became pregnant. He turned to his family’s difficult patriarch, octogenarian Jesse Langley Sr., for insights. What made Granddaddy Jesse so emotionally diffident and cold, despite the fact that he was an adequate husband, father and grandfather for 60 years? Jasper’s grandfather died before Jasper could visit Greenville, N.C., the place where Jesse grew up, lost his parents and gave himself the name the Lone Ranger. The author was left to pry answers from his immediate family. Grandma Sally recalled meeting Jesse, when she was 19, in the Pentagon lunchroom; it was 1940, and they had both moved out of the South to find work in D.C. For all of their married life they lived on Childress Street in the capital. Jasper’s mother Angela, firstborn of three children, held up the example of her father as a responsible provider to her own husband, Melvin, who eventually caved under the pressure and left. (Ironically, Melvin later started another family and stuck with it.) Jasper visited innumerable aunts, uncles and cousins, extracting their stories of survival throughout the tumultuous political decades from the civil-rights movement through the sexual revolution and into the present. He found that few of Jesse’s descendants wanted to talk about the emotional toll that being orphaned and black took on him. In colloquial, heavy-handed prose, Jasper veers capriciously from personal history into muddled family chronology, offering plenty of moral slogans and relationship lessons for his contemporaries.

Earnest, often heartbreaking, but somehow still unsatisfying.

Pub Date: Jan. 10, 2006

ISBN: 0-7679-1679-4

Page Count: 256

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2005

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.


The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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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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