Philip’s family history is alarmingly transporting, and her sense of place so rich you can taste it.

A FAMILY PLACE

A HUDSON VALLEY FARM, THREE CENTURIES, FIVE WARS, ONE FAMILY

An exquisite rendering of a Hudson Valley family farm, as detailed and colored as a Persian miniature, from Philip (English/Colgate Univ.; The Road Through Miyama, 1989).

Since 1732, Philip’s family has had a farm in Columbia County, New York. Talavera, the farm mansion built by her forebears the Van Nesses, is where her mother lives today, though precariously. Maintaining a farm on such desirable property is tough. The pick-your-own apple and pear operation the family had run for the past few decades produces too little income these days to contend with high taxes and the cost of labor and agricultural inputs. The thought of losing Talavera is crippling to Philip: “I know where I am when I am here. I am home.” Attempting to fathom her attachment, the author reads the wonderfully complete record of diaries and business accounts and work orders that comprise the family archive. They provide a remarkably clear picture of the farm, starting from the years preceding the Civil War. Although the gentleman who built the house was a bit of a local grandee, the Van Ness/Philip family were not country squires, but working farmers who tended orchards and hog operations, horses and field crops. The letters so lovingly kept also reveal a cast of family characters: “The wild aunt, the radical aunt, the aunt who had been forgotten altogether. All had lived at Talavera and had left their mark.” There are rectitudinous men and women, and there are black sheep: “Gaston was sent out of the country for a while until the affair settled down.” And while Philip comes to recognize that Talavera is much a part of her identity, she also begins to understand the Van Ness/Philip brood were a footloose bunch that rarely had a boodle, and if she were forced to surrender Talavera to development, her ties would never be cut.

Philip’s family history is alarmingly transporting, and her sense of place so rich you can taste it.

Pub Date: Oct. 7, 2001

ISBN: 0-670-03013-9

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2001

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The book begins in Sri Lanka with the tsunami of 2004—a horror the author saw firsthand, and the aftermath of which he...

LIVES OTHER THAN MY OWN

The latest from French writer/filmmaker Carrère (My Life as a Russian Novel, 2010, etc.) is an awkward but intermittently touching hybrid of novel and autobiography.

The book begins in Sri Lanka with the tsunami of 2004—a horror the author saw firsthand, and the aftermath of which he describes powerfully. Carrère and his partner, Hélène, then return to Paris—and do so with a mutual devotion that's been renewed and deepened by all they've witnessed. Back in France, Hélène's sister Juliette, a magistrate and mother of three small daughters, has suffered a recurrence of the cancer that crippled her in adolescence. After her death, Carrère decides to write an oblique tribute and an investigation into the ravages of grief. He focuses first on Juliette's colleague and intimate friend Étienne, himself an amputee and survivor of childhood cancer, and a man in whose talkativeness and strength Carrère sees parallels to himself ("He liked to talk about himself. It's my way, he said, of talking to and about others, and he remarked astutely that it was my way, too”). Étienne is a perceptive, dignified person and a loyal, loving friend, and Carrère's portrait of him—including an unexpectedly fascinating foray into Étienne and Juliette's chief professional accomplishment, which was to tap the new European courts for help in overturning longtime French precedents that advantaged credit-card companies over small borrowers—is impressive. Less successful is Carrère's account of Juliette's widower, Patrice, an unworldly cartoonist whom he admires for his fortitude but seems to consider something of a simpleton. Now and again, especially in the Étienne sections, Carrère's meditations pay off in fresh, pungent insights, and his account of Juliette's last days and of the aftermath (especially for her daughters) is quietly harrowing.

Pub Date: Sept. 13, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-8050-9261-5

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Metropolitan/Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: Aug. 11, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2011

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A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor...

INTO THE WILD

The excruciating story of a young man on a quest for knowledge and experience, a search that eventually cooked his goose, told with the flair of a seasoned investigative reporter by Outside magazine contributing editor Krakauer (Eiger Dreams, 1990). 

Chris McCandless loved the road, the unadorned life, the Tolstoyan call to asceticism. After graduating college, he took off on another of his long destinationless journeys, this time cutting all contact with his family and changing his name to Alex Supertramp. He was a gent of strong opinions, and he shared them with those he met: "You must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life''; "be nomadic.'' Ultimately, in 1992, his terms got him into mortal trouble when he ran up against something—the Alaskan wild—that didn't give a hoot about Supertramp's worldview; his decomposed corpse was found 16 weeks after he entered the bush. Many people felt McCandless was just a hubris-laden jerk with a death wish (he had discarded his map before going into the wild and brought no food but a bag of rice). Krakauer thought not. Admitting an interest that bordered on obsession, he dug deep into McCandless's life. He found a willful, reckless, moody boyhood; an ugly little secret that sundered the relationship between father and son; a moral absolutism that agitated the young man's soul and drove him to extremes; but he was no more a nutcase than other pilgrims. Writing in supple, electric prose, Krakauer tries to make sense of McCandless (while scrupulously avoiding off-the-rack psychoanalysis): his risky behavior and the rites associated with it, his asceticism, his love of wide open spaces, the flights of his soul.

A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor will it to readers of Krakauer's narrative. (4 maps) (First printing of 35,000; author tour)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-42850-X

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Villard

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1995

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