Enlightening walks through cities, cultural history, and a writer’s heart and soul.

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FLÂNEUSE

WOMEN WALK THE CITY IN PARIS, NEW YORK, TOKYO, VENICE, AND LONDON

An American freelance essayist and translator living in Paris debuts with an appealing blend of memoir, scholarship, and cultural criticism.

White Review contributing editor Elkin presents a feminine alteration of the French word flâneur (“one who wanders aimlessly”) and uses both her own experiences and those of some noted writers and other artists to illustrate her principal thesis: that women have long needed to be as free to roam about, geographically and artistically, as men have been. “The portraits I paint here attest that the flâneuse is not merely a female flâneur,” writes the author, “but a figure to be reckoned with, and inspired by, all on her own….She is a determined, resourceful individual keenly attuned to the creative potential of the city, and the liberating possibilities of a good walk.” Elkin’s own story runs through the text like a luminous thread. She tells us the woman-in-the-street stories of Jean Rhys, Virginia Woolf, George Sand, Sophie Calle, Agnès Varda, and Martha Gellhorn, but all sorts of other cultural figures appear, including Barthes, Rilke, Baudelaire, Hemingway, Derrida, Dickens, and numerous others. Elkin is frank about her own life, discussing a long, failed relationship—following him, she moved to Tokyo, where her initial unhappiness in the city transformed to deep affection—her ambivalence about leaving one city she loved, New York, which is near family and friends, for another she came to love even more: Paris. (She has become a French citizen.) Elkin also lived for a time in London and Venice, but though she loved both places, it is Paris now owning her heart. The pattern of her principal chapters is fairly steady: her own story mixed with sometimes overly detailed accounts of a notable woman associated with the city. These minibiographies and exegeses of the artists’ work are occasionally heavier than casual readers may be willing to bear, but for the patient, there are the bright rewards of insight and new information.

Enlightening walks through cities, cultural history, and a writer’s heart and soul.

Pub Date: Feb. 21, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-374-15604-6

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Nov. 7, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2016

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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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