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 3, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 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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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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