Not a full-fledged life but, rather, the last decade or so in the on-going adventures of the portly, apple-cheeked forklift- repairman and Nobel Prize laureate who triggered the collapse of the Communist empire. Walesa opens in 1984, a year of despair: Solidarity has been outlawed; passivity rules; Poland is in the clutches of ``vulgar and dim-witted apparatchiks.'' Seven years later, Walesa would be elected president of his nation. According to Walesa, the key player during this turnabout was not himself but Pope John Paul II, under whose spiritual leadership ``Europe recovered its identity, becoming a continent of free countries.'' Emotions surge during the Pope's three visits to Poland, each ``as necessary as the sun,'' rallying a brutalized people to renew their struggle for freedom and justice. Mostly, though, we get the struggles of the Walesa clan: Lech, in and out of prison, hunting for a new house, quitting tobacco; wife Danka, ``my guiding light,'' battling the police, shooing reporters from the kitchen; six children coming of age during the rebirth of a nation. Signs of revolution are everywhere, and not the least of them are visits by world celebrities— Thatcher, Bush, Elton John—to the humble Walesa household in Gdansk to support the cause. Finally, the state edifice cracks and free elections are held in 1989. Much detail is offered about internal political squabbles that hold little interest for Americans. On the other hand, Walesa confronts squarely the problem of Polish anti-Semitism and comes off as a real mensch. Whether describing his triumphant speech to Congress, his devotion to the Virgin Mary, or his fear that his sons may emigrate to Western Europe or America, he sounds just like what he is: a working-class hero, salt-of-the earth. As satisfying as a platter of kielbasi and pierogi—and without all the fat.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1992

ISBN: 1-55970-149-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Arcade

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1992


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



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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