Thoughtful, sensitively observed essays.

MIGRATORY BIRDS

Essays haunted by echoes and shadows.

In the third entry of the publisher’s Undelivered Lectures series (following books by Mary Cappello and Namwali Serpell), Mexican-born essayist Oliver debuts with a collection of 10 graceful pieces that include meditations on place, language, exile, and memory. Whooping cranes, the subject of the title essay, follow “a route anchored in memory” in their annual migration. Not all migrations, though, end in home: In the early 1960s, thousands of children were sent from Cuba to Florida by parents who feared that they would be wrenched from their families to serve Castro. Too many to house in camps, the children were relegated to orphanages or temporary homes; many never saw their parents again. Other migrations are willful tests of one’s identity: Writer and performer Emine Özdamar left her native Turkey for Germany, where she chose to write in German. “Authors who write in languages that are not their own are frequently interrogated about their motivations, as though words were also private property,” Oliver observes. The author, who won a scholarship to study in Erfurt, Germany, when she was 22, considers the complexities of inhabiting language, place, and time. In Berlin, Oliver discovered that the violence of the past “is a dense fog that refuses to lift. The city stands out because it trades in reversal: the echo is sharper than the sound, memory is stronger than the present, and in public you are only allowed to conjugate in the past tense.” At least 3,000 unexploded bombs lie beneath Berlin; the city of Koblenz has been evacuated four times so that bombs could be defused. Oliver also found secrets beneath the surface in Cappadocia, where she visited cities of ancient caves carved out of Anatolia’s volcanic earth; 37 cities have been found so far, connected by high-ceilinged tunnels. Early Christians sought refuge in the caves, which now have become a tourist destination.

Thoughtful, sensitively observed essays.

Pub Date: June 8, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-945492-52-5

Page Count: 140

Publisher: Transit Books

Review Posted Online: March 30, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2021

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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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A refreshing celebrity memoir focused not strictly on the self but on a much larger horizon.

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WILL

One of Hollywood’s biggest stars delivers a memoir of success won through endless, relentless work and self-reckoning.

“My imagination is my gift, and when it merges with my work ethic, I can make money rain from the heavens.” So writes Smith, whose imagination is indeed a thing of wonder—a means of coping with fear, an abusive father with the heart of a drill instructor, and all manner of inner yearnings. The author’s imagination took him from a job bagging ice in Philadelphia to initial success as a partner in the Grammy-winning rap act DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince. Smith was propelled into stardom thanks to the ministrations of Quincy Jones, who arranged an audition in the middle of his own birthday party, bellowing “No paralysis through analysis!” when Smith begged for time to prepare. The mantra—which Jones intoned 50-odd times during the two hours it took for the Hollywood suits to draw up a contract for the hit comedy series The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air—is telling, for hidden within this memoir lies a powerful self-help book. For Smith, all of life is a challenge in which one’s feelings are largely immaterial. “I watched my father’s negative emotions seize control of his ample intellect and cause him over and over again to destroy beautiful parts of our family,” he writes, good reason for him to sublimate negativity in the drive to get what he wanted—money, at first, and lots of it, which got him in trouble with the IRS in the early 1990s. Smith, having developed a self-image that cast him as a coward, opines that one’s best life is lived by facing up to the things that hold us back. “I’ve been making a conscious effort to attack all the things that I’m scared of,” he writes, adding, “And this is scary.” It’s a good lesson for any aspiring creative to ponder—though it helps to have Smith’s abundant talent, too.

A refreshing celebrity memoir focused not strictly on the self but on a much larger horizon.

Pub Date: Nov. 9, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-984877-92-5

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Nov. 9, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2021

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