SPLIT

A COUNTERCULTURE CHILDHOOD

A memoir about growing up as the daughter of a radical father and a hippie mother—but mostly just about growing up. The author was born in 1966 to parents deeply involved in the Zeitgeist. Her father spent two years in jail as a member of the radical Weathermen underground. Michaels, a contributing editor at the Threepenny Review, a literary journal, spent a pre-kindergarten year on the road with her mother and stepfather, living out of a mail van, before settling down to an alternative lifestyle in northern California. But having central casting’s ’60s parents doesn—t by itself make for a riveting life story, and a short way into this memoir, it strikes the reader that there’s really nothing of enormous consequence to Michaels’s life. Even her parents come across as straighter than might have been expected: Her father stayed a radical longer than most of his contemporaries, but there’s no mention of drugs in their lives, and very little sex. Michaels is really just striving to fit the description her grandmother offers of her mother: “She could take a casual day and make it interesting.” Sometimes Michaels fails: The days are just too casual, the happenings too trivial, to carry the weight Michaels tries to give them. Sometimes she succeeds, using vivid memories of growing up, being shuttled back and forth between divorced parents, going to college, trekking through Nepal, and getting married to reflect on life, love, and loss. And if at times she seems perilously close to slipping into the maudlin, especially as she describes her years of simmering, subconscious anger at her father for leaving her and going to jail, Michaels’s finely crafted, lucid prose saves her from going over the edge. A decent autobiography, but a good—sometimes excellent—essay that reflects the counterculture less by the happenings it describes than by the intensity and honesty with which it is written.

Pub Date: July 6, 1998

ISBN: 0-395-83739-1

Page Count: 307

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: March 9, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 1998

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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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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

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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