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FIVE DAYS GONE

THE MYSTERY OF MY MOTHER'S DISAPPEARANCE AS A CHILD

A satisfying mystery that could have been grist for Agatha Christie’s mill.

The art critic for the Observer explores family secrets stretching back 90 years.

In the fall of 1929, writes Cumming (The Vanishing Velázquez: A 19th-Century Bookseller’s Obsession with a Lost Masterpiece, 2016), a 3-year-old girl “was playing by herself with a new tin spade” on a Lincolnshire beach, her mother at her side—until, for a moment, the girl dropped out of her sight and was coaxed away by someone watching nearby, “so fast that she couldn’t have got anywhere near the water.” The girl, who would become the author’s mother, the artist Betty Elston, did not drown; she turned up a few days later. Cumming probes her memory and investigates family albums in an attempt to determine what happened. What she turns up is a secret betrayal on the part of her grandfather to which her grandmother must have surrendered, thinking it “her Christian duty” but likely having had no choice but to do so. The facts of the story and their resolution command attention, but in the end, they’re less interesting than the author’s process of thinking about them. As she looks at photo albums with the eye of a scholarly detective, she discerns patterns of gaps and absences, sees eyes averted, a countenance “reluctant or evasive,” and reads between the lines. Those photographs from the past connect generations in a one-way conversation even as present-day readers, saturated in color, look at monochrome photographs as if the world of their subjects were colorless too: “The mind knows this is false,” writes Cumming, “but the optic nerve is fooled into finding these figures less real, immediate, vital. Monochrome turns the present into the past; makes the past look even more distant.” Her nuanced, pensive account restores reality and vitality to figures from out of the past, making them meaningful while uncovering their secrets.

A satisfying mystery that could have been grist for Agatha Christie’s mill.

Pub Date: Aug. 27, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5011-9871-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: June 30, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2019

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NIGHT

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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THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS

FROM MEAN STREETS TO WALL STREET

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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