A luminous, engrossing meditation on family love and loss.

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BOWING TO ELEPHANTS

TALES OF A TRAVEL JUNKIE

An American woman’s trips to foreign lands help her come to terms with a troubled past in this memoir.

Dimond, a retired writing professor, juxtaposes scenes from her world travels with fraught episodes from her personal life to tease out hidden resonances. She begins with an account of a three-year teenage sojourn in Italy in the 1950s, during which she contrasts the warmth of the local culture with her chilly relationship with her mother, a free-spirited artist, which left the young author feeling lonely and undervalued. Her adult travels took her to more exotic locales, which she intersperses with more family memories and Buddhist teachings that she adopted in maturity. At one point, for example, a nunnery in Burma evokes recollections of a childhood girlfriend’s family, which was as welcoming as her own was alienating. A 2013 visit to see Ho Chi Minh’s miraculously preserved corpse on display in Hanoi takes her back to a similarly hallucinatory acid trip that she had during the 1967 Summer of Love. A 2010 encounter with an elephant herd in Kenya, in which the adult females vigilantly guarded their calves, provokes a recollection of a time in 1966 when she briefly abandoned her husband and 1-year-old daughter for a fling in Las Vegas. She closes with a long, Proustian remembrance of her childhood hometown of San Francisco that takes in bohemian North Beach, the bustling downtown, and the Pacific Heights house where her grandmother led an elegant life that was full of disappointment. The author’s loose-limbed narrative moves back and forth in time, telling a tale that’s less about specific events than it is about shifting moods in shifting places—sometimes anxious, plaintive, or grief-stricken and other times brimming with interest and wonder. The prose is gorgeous and novelistic, vividly depicting the pitiless African savanna (“Greasy-looking black vultures swooped and hovered and swooped again, pecking away at the sour-smelling carcass; they shrieked nervously”) and the mellow ambiance of Florence (“golden light reaching down and blessing an arched doorway, a cloud of cigarette smoke, as children scurried along with their soccer ball”). Much of the book’s sensuousness comes from its lavish descriptions of food, from elaborate feasts to a simple egg: “warm and comforting to hold in the palm of your hand, the creamy and sticky richness of the golden yolk, so good you must lick the little egg spoon clean.” At its haunted center is a wistful and wounded portrait of Dimond’s relationship with her mother, who is a changing landscape in her own right: She was movie-star glamorous in her youth, but the author describes how, in her decline, she had “the ugly wide calloused feet she tried to squeeze into pretty flats, the gnarled hands that she didn’t cherish anymore…her lipstick always seemed cracked.” Overall, this is not merely an account of strange lands and novel adventures, but also a moving saga of a woman wandering the world in search of home.

A luminous, engrossing meditation on family love and loss.

Pub Date: Sept. 17, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-63152-596-4

Page Count: 256

Publisher: She Writes Press

Review Posted Online: July 8, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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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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