An important writer with nothing new to say.



After traversing many different genres, from literary fiction (Dancing on Tisha B’Av, 1990) to academic mysteries (the Nick Hoffman series) and critical essays (Journeys and Arrivals, 1996), Raphael returns to nonfiction, drawing together 12 pieces about being a gay, Jewish writer.

The best essays are the first two, “Writing a Jewish Life” and “Okemos, Michigan.” Both were published in Journeys and Arrivals (“Writing” appeared under the title “To Be a Jew”), both have been widely anthologized, as is also true of several other pieces in the collection. Raphael fails to rework this disparate material into a seamless work of narrative nonfiction; indeed, he apparently couldn’t even be bothered to smooth out the transitions from essay to essay. In the first piece, for example, we read that one of his two stepsons is a Hillel director; a few pages later, the stepsons are in high school and college. In addition to such minor but jarring inconsistencies, the book’s other major problem is repetition. The fifth essay, “Writing Something Real,” rehashes the same themes as the title piece, and in many places, the two are repeated word for word. In both, Raphael explains that when he began to write, he avoided any mention of Judaism or the Holocaust. “My writing was as far away from myself as possible,” he tells us (twice), “and by that I mean as far away from my world, my own observations, my own truest knowledge.” Then, under the guidance of a college writing teacher, Raphael began to write a story that was honest and good. Now, in two essays, he exclaims, “I was terrified—I was alive.” To hear it once is great. Twice, it’s insulting. If we are going to take the time to read Raphael’s musings, can’t he take the time to revise and edit them?

An important writer with nothing new to say.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-7867-1649-5

Page Count: 192

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2006

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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

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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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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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