VERTIGO

A MEMOIR

A biographer and literary critic's memoir of growing up in Hoboken, N.J., in a claustrophobic Italian-American family. DeSalvo (English/Hunter College; Conceived with Malice, 1994, etc.) was the first member of her working-class family to graduate from college. She escaped a stultifying home life—depressed and agoraphobic mother, belligerent and rigid father—through books, movies, study, and boys, boys, boys. She became a Virginia Woolf scholar, writing in her controversial 1989 study about the impact of childhood sexual abuse on Woolf's work. The effort to come to grips with the lingering mental strain caused by her mother's death, her sister's suicide, her memory of childhood traumas of her own—plus the intense, consuming life of an academic writer- -eventually compelled her to write about her own life in an effort to ``to give it some shape, some order.'' The result is an extremely readable book—if not necessarily a lovable one. DeSalvo's prose is plain; her tone often cool. We gain insight into her life and her mother's life—but not her dead sister's. New Jersey of the 1950s is vividly evoked, but DeSalvo's present situation as teacher, wife, and mother is less vivid. Among the book's best elements: a list of her mother's punitive and pathetic attempts at cooking—from liver, heart, and snails to head cheese, eels, and octupus. Vertigo's main failing is a lack of continuity; there is a grab-bag feeling to some of the reminiscences, and sometimes topics are misleadingly highlighted—a chapter called ``Anorexia,'' for example, is not about the anorexia of the author or anyone close to her, but rather about anorexia in general, and the effect is that of DeSalvo's trying to touch all possible feminist bases. Strangely cool, ultimately more successful as cultural history than psychological memoir, DeSalvo's book is nevertheless gripping in its parade of detail and profusion of stories about how ``a working-class Italian girl became a critic and writer.'' (Author tour)

Pub Date: Aug. 21, 1996

ISBN: 0-525-93908-3

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 1996

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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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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