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

OFF-WHITE

A MEMOIR

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 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2005

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

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 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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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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