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OFF-WHITE

A MEMOIR

A strange, unhappy marriage of the weird and the conventional. (B&w photos throughout)

A Southern woman explores in unremarkable prose the genesis and evolution of her racial attitudes.

Gunst (Born Fi’ Dead: A Journey Through the Jamaican Posse Underworld, 1995) was born into a privileged, fairly liberal Jewish household in South Carolina; her family once manufactured Sergeant’s flea collars. To a great extent, this is the story of a remarkable black woman, Rhoda Cobin Lloyd, who worked for decades as a nurse and nanny in the Gunst household. The author repeatedly refers to Rhoda as her “mother,” and her book ends as she chases down the few court records referring to her former nanny, then connects with Rhoda’s relatives. There’s a way in which this is also a conventional troubled-child memoir. The author was overweight. Mother didn’t seem to love her and said unkind things, dissuading Laurie from applying to Radcliffe by saying she wasn’t “Radcliffe material.” Daddy worried about the shape of her nose, drank too much and fooled around with another woman. Gunst became a cocaine addict while she was completing her Ph.D. (Harvard will no doubt be saddened to learn the source of her classroom euphoria.) She married twice and became an authority on Jamaican posses. Meanwhile, she relates without a scintilla of incredulity the tale of a Jamaican boy cured of debilitating head pain and a mysterious high fever by a “priestess” who invoked spirit aid. After Rhoda died in 1986, Gunst frequently conversed with her ghost, who continued to hang around like a good nanny. The author has a compelling story, especially for readers willing to suspend disbelief from a high, high branch. But she consistently eschews fresh language in favor of cliché: she has strokes of good fortune, when she isn’t a nervous wreck. The trite prose ineluctably leads to banalities, which in turn make even the most bizarre events seem somehow inconsequential.

A strange, unhappy marriage of the weird and the conventional. (B&w photos throughout)

Pub Date: Aug. 15, 2005

ISBN: 1-56947-400-1

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Soho

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2005

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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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