A series of redolent snapshots and memories that seem to halt time.

Lyrical reflections on the relentless cycle of birth and death by Nashville-based New York Times contributing opinion writer Renkl.

In this unusual and poignant memoir, the author, editor of the online literary journal Chapter 16, alternates in short chapters between her current life as a happily married mother of grown children living in Nashville, Tennessee, and her years growing up in rural Alabama surrounded by a loving extended family. Her narrative metaphor becomes the miraculous order of nature, especially the lives of wild birds she observes from her home office as they devote their brief lives to making nests for and feeding the young only to be, in many cases, fodder for larger prey that must nourish their own fledglings. Renkl’s mother, Olivia, was born in lower Alabama in 1931; married a Catholic man—“my grandfather had never laid eyes on a Catholic before he met his future son-in-law”—and gave birth to the author in 1961. Renkl was so anticipated and adored by the family that in pictures, “they are looking at me as if I were the sun, as if they had been cold every day of their lives until now.” As a child, the author remembers her mother often despondent, stricken by postpartum depression. The family moved to Birmingham in 1968, during the turbulent civil rights era, yet Renkl was sheltered from the greater troubles within the bosom of her family. In 1984, the author attempted a semester of graduate school in Philadelphia, but she was so traumatized by the noise and dislocation that she quickly returned to the South and attended school in South Carolina. Renkl describes the deaths of many of her elders (and her sometimes-onerous role as their late-life caretaker), but the strength of her narrative is in the descriptions of nature in all its glory and cruelty; she vividly captures “the splendor of decay.” Interspersed with the chapters are appealing nature illustrations by the author’s brother.

A series of redolent snapshots and memories that seem to halt time.

Pub Date: July 9, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-57131-378-2

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Milkweed

Review Posted Online: April 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019


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

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



Well-told and admonitory.

Young-rags-to-mature-riches memoir by broker and motivational speaker Gardner.

Born and raised in the Milwaukee ghetto, the author pulled himself up from considerable disadvantage. He was fatherless, and his adored mother wasn’t always around; once, as a child, he spied her at a family funeral accompanied by a prison guard. When beautiful, evanescent Moms was there, Chris also had to deal with Freddie “I ain’t your goddamn daddy!” Triplett, one of the meanest stepfathers in recent literature. Chris did “the dozens” with the homies, boosted a bit and in the course of youthful adventure was raped. His heroes were Miles Davis, James Brown and Muhammad Ali. Meanwhile, at the behest of Moms, he developed a fondness for reading. He joined the Navy and became a medic (preparing badass Marines for proctology), and a proficient lab technician. Moving up in San Francisco, married and then divorced, he sold medical supplies. He was recruited as a trainee at Dean Witter just around the time he became a homeless single father. All his belongings in a shopping cart, Gardner sometimes slept with his young son at the office (apparently undiscovered by the night cleaning crew). The two also frequently bedded down in a public restroom. After Gardner’s talents were finally appreciated by the firm of Bear Stearns, his American Dream became real. He got the cool duds, hot car and fine ladies so coveted from afar back in the day. He even had a meeting with Nelson Mandela. Through it all, he remained a prideful parent. His own no-daddy blues are gone now.

Well-told and admonitory.

Pub Date: June 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-06-074486-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2006

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