An impressive literary debut.

A translator’s command of language belatedly finds her translating her own life.

Wolfson describes herself as working “in a difficult-to-name genre containing generous helpings of the lived, the observed and the overheard…[and a] blurring of distinctions that had long struck me as artificial and unnecessary.” In a volume that is more cohesive than a typical essay collection, the pieces flow together like memoir, though an elliptical one, in which the author is “omitting a lot, almost everything, in fact.” Yet her writing attests to a remarkable life, one rendered with a remarkable verbal facility. She long supported herself as a translator, primarily of Russian, a language she was inspired to learn in order to read Anna Karenina. She eventually did, but her deeper connection to the language resulted from her marriage to a Russian man, whom she divorced because he resisted having children even more than she wanted them. The book’s odd title comes from her husband’s insistence that if they were to have a child, they would need “twenty-four-hour day care.” Well after she had divorced him and married again, she learned that this was actually an option in Russia, “for single mothers working as train conductors,” and thus away from home for days on end. Wolfson subsequently spent years immersing herself in the study of Yiddish as a way of coming to terms with her own identity within a family of mostly nonobservant Jews. Then she suffered a collapsed lung, caused by a disease she couldn’t pronounce. It was degenerative and usually fatal, making her pregnancy too great of a risk in her second marriage (which also collapsed). Where essayists often strain to find topics to muse about, this evocatively detailed and richly experienced writing reflects a life with no dearth of material. But as she tells an aspiring writer, “what’s important about a book is not so much what happens in it, but how the writer tells it.” Wolfson unquestionably tells it well.

An impressive literary debut.

Pub Date: June 1, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-60938-581-1

Page Count: 144

Publisher: Univ. of Iowa

Review Posted Online: April 2, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2018



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 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998


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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