A cleansing, passionate memoir.

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MY GERMANY

A JEWISH WRITER RETURNS TO THE WORLD HIS PARENTS ESCAPED

Novelist and memoirist Raphael (Hot Rocks, 2007, etc.), contemplates with stark honesty his changing attitude toward the nation that persecuted his parents.

His mother, whose comfortable family had lived in Vilna since the 17th century, was a slave laborer at a munitions factory in Magdeburg, Germany, during World War II. His father, who grew up in eastern Czechoslovakia, was conscripted for forced labor on the Russian front, then sent to Bergen-Belsen, where he became a Kapo and tried to alleviate the sufferings of other Jews. Both lost family members in the Holocaust, and these ghosts created a wall of silence and sadness around them in Raphael’s childhood home in New York City’s Washington Heights neighborhood. His parents spoke Yiddish to each other and did not share stories about their experiences with their two sons. They openly scorned the prewar German Jews of Washington Heights and the Reform synagogue down the street; indeed, Raphael absorbed his parents’ hatred of all things German and their shame at being Jewish. Ironically, their decision not to circumcise their sons separated the boys not only from other Jews, but also from the majority of Americans. The author records his gradual, painful coming to terms with his identity as a Jew, a gay man and a writer finding his voice. Recognizing that he deeply craved more knowledge about his Jewish heritage, he attempted to break the silence imposed by his parents and “heal my own split from Judaism” in his first published story, which appeared in Redbook in 1978. Compared to the memoir’s searing early chapters, Raphael’s recollections of pleasant book tours through modern Germany seem rather pallid, despite stirring descriptions of his visits to the camps that haunted his parents’ dreams. Nonetheless, it’s moving to read that the author finally felt liberated from his family’s tragedy by the warm reception he received from contemporary German audiences.

A cleansing, passionate memoir.

Pub Date: April 5, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-299-23150-7

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Terrace Books/Univ. of Wisconsin Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2009

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An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

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BECOMING

The former first lady opens up about her early life, her journey to the White House, and the eight history-making years that followed.

It’s not surprising that Obama grew up a rambunctious kid with a stubborn streak and an “I’ll show you” attitude. After all, it takes a special kind of moxie to survive being the first African-American FLOTUS—and not only survive, but thrive. For eight years, we witnessed the adversity the first family had to face, and now we get to read what it was really like growing up in a working-class family on Chicago’s South Side and ending up at the world’s most famous address. As the author amply shows, her can-do attitude was daunted at times by racism, leaving her wondering if she was good enough. Nevertheless, she persisted, graduating from Chicago’s first magnet high school, Princeton, and Harvard Law School, and pursuing careers in law and the nonprofit world. With her characteristic candor and dry wit, she recounts the story of her fateful meeting with her future husband. Once they were officially a couple, her feelings for him turned into a “toppling blast of lust, gratitude, fulfillment, wonder.” But for someone with a “natural resistance to chaos,” being the wife of an ambitious politician was no small feat, and becoming a mother along the way added another layer of complexity. Throw a presidential campaign into the mix, and even the most assured woman could begin to crack under the pressure. Later, adjusting to life in the White House was a formidable challenge for the self-described “control freak”—not to mention the difficulty of sparing their daughters the ugly side of politics and preserving their privacy as much as possible. Through it all, Obama remained determined to serve with grace and help others through initiatives like the White House garden and her campaign to fight childhood obesity. And even though she deems herself “not a political person,” she shares frank thoughts about the 2016 election.

An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6313-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 30, 2018

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Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

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UNTAMED

More life reflections from the bestselling author on themes of societal captivity and the catharsis of personal freedom.

In her third book, Doyle (Love Warrior, 2016, etc.) begins with a life-changing event. “Four years ago,” she writes, “married to the father of my three children, I fell in love with a woman.” That woman, Abby Wambach, would become her wife. Emblematically arranged into three sections—“Caged,” “Keys,” “Freedom”—the narrative offers, among other elements, vignettes about the soulful author’s girlhood, when she was bulimic and felt like a zoo animal, a “caged girl made for wide-open skies.” She followed the path that seemed right and appropriate based on her Catholic upbringing and adolescent conditioning. After a downward spiral into “drinking, drugging, and purging,” Doyle found sobriety and the authentic self she’d been suppressing. Still, there was trouble: Straining an already troubled marriage was her husband’s infidelity, which eventually led to life-altering choices and the discovery of a love she’d never experienced before. Throughout the book, Doyle remains open and candid, whether she’s admitting to rigging a high school homecoming court election or denouncing the doting perfectionism of “cream cheese parenting,” which is about “giving your children the best of everything.” The author’s fears and concerns are often mirrored by real-world issues: gender roles and bias, white privilege, racism, and religion-fueled homophobia and hypocrisy. Some stories merely skim the surface of larger issues, but Doyle revisits them in later sections and digs deeper, using friends and familial references to personify their impact on her life, both past and present. Shorter pieces, some only a page in length, manage to effectively translate an emotional gut punch, as when Doyle’s therapist called her blooming extramarital lesbian love a “dangerous distraction.” Ultimately, the narrative is an in-depth look at a courageous woman eager to share the wealth of her experiences by embracing vulnerability and reclaiming her inner strength and resiliency.

Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-0125-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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