The light and the dark fight it out in this fierce, fiery memoir.

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THE SKIN ABOVE MY KNEE

Can music save a person’s life?

For professional oboist Butler, the answer is yes. Her brutally honest memoir recounts the life of a woman who was able to overcome devastating emotional and physical pain, sometimes self-inflicted, thanks to the music she loved and performed. Her father was a creepy and violent man who once smashed her sister’s face with a brutal punch. He haunts this book, while the author’s mother comes across as weak, quiet, and passive in the background. There seemed to be little love in the household. However, there was music, and Butler grabbed on to it like a life raft. As a 4-year-old, she was mesmerized by Richard Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde and singer Kirsten Flagstad. Butler picked up the flute in fourth grade and later, when her music teacher asked for a volunteer to play a new instrument, she took on the oboe. The music and hours of practice were always there for her when her parents weren’t. The book proceeds chronologically, with many italicized chapters interspersed. These are mainly about music and performing and her favorite composers, and they’re a welcome respite from the pain of her personal story. Eventually, Butler got into a conservatory in New York City and worked odd jobs to survive. Her low self-esteem and unrelenting search for a new father figure led to a failed marriage, abusive boyfriends, drugs, and even a suicide attempt. But there was always the music, and she writes lovingly and beautifully about it. She tells us about making reeds for her oboe, why many conductors aren’t worth their salt, how difficult and “glorious” it is to work as a freelance musician with great composers (André Watts, Keith Jarrett), and the utter joy of performing Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, which “tests the endurance of all oboists.”

The light and the dark fight it out in this fierce, fiery memoir.

Pub Date: Feb. 21, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-316-39228-0

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 15, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2016

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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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