ESMOND AND ILIA

AN UNRELIABLE MEMOIR

A compassionate, belletristic cross-cultural memoir.

A detail-rich reminiscence of the author’s parents’ lives in postwar colonial Egypt.

Warner is an acclaimed scholar of literature and mythology, and here she applies much of her skills as an observer and close reader to the story of her parents. Esmond, her father, was a patrician, exact Briton (his father was a leading cricket expert) who met her mother, Ilia, in her native Italy when he was a British officer during World War II. In Warner’s reckoning, Ilia saw an opportunity to escape her rural station; Esmond was simply smitten by a tall, attractive, bright woman. Despite various cultural barriers, they married quickly in 1944. Three years later, shortly after Warner was born, the family moved to Cairo, where Esmond ran one of the city’s most popular bookshops. Warner’s memoir mostly covers the family’s stint in Egypt, which ended in 1952 when riots and fires closed the shop and spelled the end of England’s colonial presence. That drama aside, the book is largely an intimate story, alive in the particulars that Warner uses to explore her parents’ sometimes-incomprehensible relationship. A pair of expensive shoes Esmond bought for Ilia reveals how status-conscious they were; a pot of anchovy paste speaks to Ilia’s aspiration to Britishness; a photo of a popular nightclub singer opens questions about whether Esmond had an affair. The “unreliable” aspect of the book speaks to the fact that many of its events occurred before Warner was even born. Nonetheless, she draws plenty of insights through modest objects, from bookplates to cigarette tins to powder compacts. She recognizes these items can reveal only so much: “I moved among my ghosts and rummaged about in the past and tried to find my way back through the darkness that wraps them,” she writes. Yet she sheds light on a loving, if sometimes strained, relationship.

A compassionate, belletristic cross-cultural memoir.

Pub Date: June 14, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-68137-644-8

Page Count: 432

Publisher: New York Review Books

Review Posted Online: Feb. 8, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2022

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TANQUERAY

A blissfully vicarious, heartfelt glimpse into the life of a Manhattan burlesque dancer.

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A former New York City dancer reflects on her zesty heyday in the 1970s.

Discovered on a Manhattan street in 2020 and introduced on Stanton’s Humans of New York Instagram page, Johnson, then 76, shares her dynamic history as a “fiercely independent” Black burlesque dancer who used the stage name Tanqueray and became a celebrated fixture in midtown adult theaters. “I was the only black girl making white girl money,” she boasts, telling a vibrant story about sex and struggle in a bygone era. Frank and unapologetic, Johnson vividly captures aspects of her former life as a stage seductress shimmying to blues tracks during 18-minute sets or sewing lingerie for plus-sized dancers. Though her work was far from the Broadway shows she dreamed about, it eventually became all about the nightly hustle to simply survive. Her anecdotes are humorous, heartfelt, and supremely captivating, recounted with the passion of a true survivor and the acerbic wit of a weathered, street-wise New Yorker. She shares stories of growing up in an abusive household in Albany in the 1940s, a teenage pregnancy, and prison time for robbery as nonchalantly as she recalls selling rhinestone G-strings to prostitutes to make them sparkle in the headlights of passing cars. Complemented by an array of revealing personal photographs, the narrative alternates between heartfelt nostalgia about the seedier side of Manhattan’s go-go scene and funny quips about her unconventional stage performances. Encounters with a variety of hardworking dancers, drag queens, and pimps, plus an account of the complexities of a first love with a drug-addled hustler, fill out the memoir with personality and candor. With a narrative assist from Stanton, the result is a consistently titillating and often moving story of human struggle as well as an insider glimpse into the days when Times Square was considered the Big Apple’s gloriously unpolished underbelly. The book also includes Yee’s lush watercolor illustrations.

A blissfully vicarious, heartfelt glimpse into the life of a Manhattan burlesque dancer.

Pub Date: July 12, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-250-27827-2

Page Count: 192

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: July 27, 2022

THE WOMAN IN ME

Spears’ vulnerability shines through as she describes her painful journey from vulnerable girl to empowered woman.

A heartfelt memoir from the pop superstar.

Spears grew up with an alcoholic father, an exacting mother, and a fear of disappointing them both. She also displayed a natural talent for singing and dancing and a strong work ethic. Spears is grateful for the adult professionals who helped her get her start, but the same can’t be said of her peers. When she met Justin Timberlake, also a Mouseketeer on the Disney Channel’s updated Mickey Mouse Club, the two formed an instant bond. Spears describes her teenage feelings for Timberlake as “so in love with him it was pathetic,” and she’s clearly angry about the rumors and breakup that followed. This tumultuous period haunted her for years. Out of many candidates for villains of the book, Timberlake included, perhaps the worst are the careless journalists of the late 1990s and early 2000s, who indulged Timberlake while vilifying Spears. The cycle repeated for years, taking its toll on her mental health. Spears gave birth to sons Sean Preston and Jayden James within two years, and she describes the difficulties they all faced living in the spotlight. The author writes passionately about how custody of her boys and visits with them were held over her head, and she recounts how they were used to coerce her to make decisions that weren’t always in her best interest. As many readers know, conservancy followed, and for 13 years, she toured, held a residency in Las Vegas, and performed—all while supposedly unable to take care of herself, an irony not lost on her. Overall, the book is cathartic, though readers who followed her 2021 trial won’t find many revelations, and many of the other newsworthy items have been widely covered in the run-up to the book’s release.

Spears’ vulnerability shines through as she describes her painful journey from vulnerable girl to empowered woman.

Pub Date: Oct. 24, 2023

ISBN: 9781668009048

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Oct. 25, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2023

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