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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A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

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WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

A neurosurgeon with a passion for literature tragically finds his perfect subject after his diagnosis of terminal lung cancer.

Writing isn’t brain surgery, but it’s rare when someone adept at the latter is also so accomplished at the former. Searching for meaning and purpose in his life, Kalanithi pursued a doctorate in literature and had felt certain that he wouldn’t enter the field of medicine, in which his father and other members of his family excelled. “But I couldn’t let go of the question,” he writes, after realizing that his goals “didn’t quite fit in an English department.” “Where did biology, morality, literature and philosophy intersect?” So he decided to set aside his doctoral dissertation and belatedly prepare for medical school, which “would allow me a chance to find answers that are not in books, to find a different sort of sublime, to forge relationships with the suffering, and to keep following the question of what makes human life meaningful, even in the face of death and decay.” The author’s empathy undoubtedly made him an exceptional doctor, and the precision of his prose—as well as the moral purpose underscoring it—suggests that he could have written a good book on any subject he chose. Part of what makes this book so essential is the fact that it was written under a death sentence following the diagnosis that upended his life, just as he was preparing to end his residency and attract offers at the top of his profession. Kalanithi learned he might have 10 years to live or perhaps five. Should he return to neurosurgery (he could and did), or should he write (he also did)? Should he and his wife have a baby? They did, eight months before he died, which was less than two years after the original diagnosis. “The fact of death is unsettling,” he understates. “Yet there is no other way to live.”

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular clarity.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8840-6

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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A standout immigrant coming-of-age story.

THE DISTANCE BETWEEN US

A MEMOIR

In her first nonfiction book, novelist Grande (Dancing with Butterflies, 2009, etc.) delves into her family’s cycle of separation and reunification.

Raised in poverty so severe that spaghetti reminded her of the tapeworms endemic to children in her Mexican hometown, the author is her family’s only college graduate and writer, whose honors include an American Book Award and International Latino Book Award. Though she was too young to remember her father when he entered the United States illegally seeking money to improve life for his family, she idolized him from afar. However, she also blamed him for taking away her mother after he sent for her when the author was not yet 5 years old. Though she emulated her sister, she ultimately answered to herself, and both siblings constantly sought affirmation of their parents’ love, whether they were present or not. When one caused disappointment, the siblings focused their hopes on the other. These contradictions prove to be the narrator’s hallmarks, as she consistently displays a fierce willingness to ask tough questions, accept startling answers, and candidly render emotional and physical violence. Even as a girl, Grande understood the redemptive power of language to define—in the U.S., her name’s literal translation, “big queen,” led to ridicule from other children—and to complicate. In spelling class, when a teacher used the sentence “my mamá loves me” (mi mamá me ama), Grande decided to “rearrange the words so that they formed a question: ¿Me ama mi mamá? Does my mama love me?”

A standout immigrant coming-of-age story.

Pub Date: Aug. 28, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4516-6177-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: June 12, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2012

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