Against The Wind


Colorado memoirist VanHee recalls a troubled upbringing that led him to the ski slopes and drug scene of Aspen in the wild 1970s.

Now a Vail businessman and philanthropist, VanHee introduces himself at the outset as a classic 1970s American archetype: a young, quasi-hippie Aspen ski bum who sustained himself in Colorado counterculture partly with a dishwashing gig but mainly with drug dealing and supplying (and sampling) the resort city’s notorious narcotics buffet. Seeking to make the proverbial One Last Big Score and quit the scene, he and his cronies find themselves caught in a deadly avalanche; it’s from this metaphorical and real-life limbo, buried under an unknown quantity of snow and uncertain of the severity of his injuries, that VanHee flashes back over his life story. With a father who abandoned the household early on and an inattentive mother afflicted by a weakness for bad men, VanHee grew up bouncing between Colorado and Nebraska with haphazard supervision and a penchant for trouble. When sent to military school, he actually enjoyed the novelty of structure, discipline and athleticism. Still, personal demons and major missteps derailed his young life several times. Granted a miraculous reprieve from Vietnam service, he traded college for easygoing Aspen, where he savored communing with nature, the ski slopes, celebrities, camaraderie with friends who were also anti-war and—of course—the town’s thriving drug trade. Going from pot to peyote to LSD to cocaine (and seeing acquaintances succumb to heroin), VanHee spent much of the 1970s peddling narcotics, aware that the breezy ride was getting darker and nastier. While other addiction memoirs credit recovery to the likes of AA, religion or an author’s own mighty willpower, VanHee indicates that it was thoughts of his family, however badly flawed his parents might have been, that compelled him to turn his life around. In an afterword, he explains that writing an autobiography started as a way to bond more closely with the strong, stable household he now heads, a position once unlikely for an at-risk kid from a broken home. Though the lawbreaking and vice here may be too small-time for readers hoping for salacious true-crime thrills and a deep look at the higher levels of the drug trade, VanHee’s tale is a satisfying one, well-told and with a special appeal for regional markets in the western United States. Less skiing and drugs than one might expect but still a successful account of a bumpy personal run and ultimate redemption.

Pub Date: Jan. 17, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4820-6125-3

Page Count: 268

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Feb. 27, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2014

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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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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...


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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