A well-written, moving perspective on imprisonment, World War II and the history of Shanghai.

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Gudao, Lone Islet: The War Years in Shanghai

A CHILDHOOD MEMOIR

A survivor of World War II internment recalls cosmopolitan, pre–World War II Shanghai and three years as a prisoner of the Japanese army.

Born in Shanghai to British expats, Blair (Shanghai Scarlet, 2012) spent her early childhood with her brother, parents and Chinese caretakers in the International Settlement, a predominantly British concession within Shanghai. Her memoir opens in 1941, when innocently content 5-year-old Blair is gently woken by Ah Ling, “my nurse, the centre of my life, my Chinese mother.” Readers know Pearl Harbor will be bombed and the world will change, but Blair takes time to paint her life before that in the concession, a “lone islet” or gudao of safety, as well as the bustling “hot din” of Shanghai. As December nears, Blair senses tension, but even after Japanese soldiers seize control of the International Settlement, she fails to comprehend the danger; she writes of Christmas cake and receiving a new doll. Throughout her memoir, Blair maintains this difficult balance of viewpoints. She details historical events (she later studied history at Glasgow University) yet relates her story as a child. In July 1942, Blair’s family is relocated to their first camp, where Blair enjoys a “last, perfect summer” of swimming, her father’s prodigious baking and the relative freedom to roam. Soon, rumors circulate of more dire internment camps, Blair’s father is imprisoned, and Ah Ling returns to Canton. Blair, her mother and brother move to a closely guarded, crowded camp and later to a squalid, dilapidated convent. Through a jury-rigged radio disguised as a toy, prisoners keep tabs on the war, while Blair skillfully builds suspense as camp conditions worsen. Yet she remains a child, knitting dolls’ clothes from unraveled sweaters, re-reading Beatrix Potter and daydreaming of summer vacation. Only as her 9-year-old body grows thin, her mother sick and her father’s fate more tenuous do readers glimpse the lasting effects of war. Young Blair swings obsessively on makeshift parallel bars, each swoop recalling her father: “Is he safe…Is he safe?”

A well-written, moving perspective on imprisonment, World War II and the history of Shanghai. 

Pub Date: Sept. 20, 2007

ISBN: 978-1425111427

Page Count: 216

Publisher: Trafford

Review Posted Online: July 26, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2013

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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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