FATES WORSE THAN DEATH

AN AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL COLLAGE OF THE 1980'S

Return of the Old Rambler, doing a replay on his 1981 autobiographical collage Palm Sunday, this time pasting together a memoir from speeches, forewords, articles, and so on written since 1981. Norman Mailer invented this format with Advertisements for Myself (1959) and no one, including Mailer, has done it as well since. Vonnegut adds plenty of humor to his new model but not much sinew. There's something truly self-defeating about parenthetical asides that leave each page of copy slack with interruptions. He includes vague forewords to Franklin Library editions of his more recent novels; writes of his brushes with Salman Rushdie (who, despite a friendship with Vonnegut, shot down one of his novels, with Vonnegut seriously thinking of adding another team to the hit list on Rushdie); comments on the firebombing of Dresden; recalls dead friends who appeared in Slaughterhouse-Five and dead fellow novelists Nelson Algren, Donald Barthelme, Hemingway, James Jones, Irwin Shaw, and others; and discusses his own incompetence as a speech-writer, his dislike of or inability to read his own works, and a suicide attempt that was foiled by a stomach pump. Vonnegut pictures himself as a depressive, though his less-than-faint hope for humanity is not as corroded as Mark Twain's during his later years. Vonnegut's most well-developed theme is in the title, as he weighs fates worse than death, including crucifixion (enslavement by the Reverend Jim Jones of the Guyana Kool-Aid horror doesn't measure up). His most memorable moments are about his first wife Jane and her death from cancer; his architect father, who never got a chance to show his stuff; and his deep feelings for fellow Dresden POW Bernard V. O'Hare. Vonnegut writes best about people, while his think pieces are sliced up with asides or dry-gulched by his alter ego. Patchy.

Pub Date: Sept. 5, 1991

ISBN: 0425134067

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1991

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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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