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HOW MANY YEARS

This fascinating family chronicle brings Yourcenar's multifarious abilities as an imaginative and erudite historian, vivid memoirist, and observant novelist to bear on her father's family, the Flemish Cleenewercks, or ``Do-littles.'' In the second of three volumes of her family chronicles (the first, Dear Departed, 1991, portrayed her mother's family), Yourcenar's (190387) narrative begins in prehistory with a mixture of high lyricism and subjective anthropology and progressively molds itself around the Roman and Christian invasions of Celtic Gaul. Out of this rich but anonymous background, her first identifiable paternal relatives emerge in the Middle Agesthe Cleenewercks and the Bieswals, minor Flemish nobility, with a recessive trait for soldiery and religion, and a strong legal gene. The law provides Yourcenar with a partial storybook—two 17th-century ancestors who judged a witch, for example, give her an excellent social and psychological opportunity—but her sharpest characterizations, of not only forebears but their times too, come from surviving portraits, including two ancestresses married to and painted by Rubens. By the 19th century, this historical memoir takes on Balzacian dimensions and Proustian overtones with the lives of Yourcenar's grandfather, Michel-Charles Cleenewerck de Crayencour, a civil servant perpetually on the wrong side of contemporary French politics and his philistine wife; and her father, Michel, a rebellious young man destined for exile. Yourcenar intimately reconstructs and retells their lives with both sympathy and irony. She revivifies her grandfather's wooden memoir, which includes an account of a notorious railway disaster outside Versailles, infusing it with her own sly observations, and rejoins her father's fragmentary anecdotes and casual disclosures about his wayward life. Sensitive to both the psychological and the historical, with an eye to fate and character, How Many Years is Yourcenar's family album for the ages. (photos, not seen)

Pub Date: July 1, 1995

ISBN: 0-374-17319-2

Page Count: 346

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1995

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 5, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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NIGHT

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

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