Human-rights activist Agos°n (Spanish/Wellesley Coll.; Always from Somewhere Else, 1998, etc.) explores divergent veins of cultural identity in the face of brutality and alienation in a rhapsodic and provocative memoir. As a young Jewish girl whose family had fled the Holocaust, Agos°n was keenly aware of her difference from the surrounding Chilean society: The overwhelmingly Catholic populace reacted to her faith with nonplussed bigotry. Within her separate community, though, her difference became a fount of sensual delight and inspirational faith, fueled by familial closeness. Her childhood seems to pass in an alternation between a lushly idyllic genteel poverty and the hard anti-Semitism endemic among citizens of a country that covertly supported the Third Reich. Agos°n is a densely allusive writer, but underneath the poetic prose often lurk ideas that are stark and direct: —My mother played in a vanished world of things and objects lost in time.— In 1973, when Pinochet’s junta assassinated President Allende (a friend of Agos°n’s family), her family fled Chile for Georgia, where linguistic and cultural displacement and the staring incomprehension she inspired as a Jewish Latina further traumatized the adolescent Agos°n. In reflecting the adolescent’s yearning for what she has lost, her narrative here turns spookier: Her outcast friends resemble —a family of crazies—; the obese patrons of a Southern amusement park become a horror show. Finally, she rediscovers herself in the secret democracies of books and language, finding through writing in both English and Spanish the power to re-create what politics and exile have stripped from her. Throughout, Agos°n’s language returns to explorations of color, natural bounty, and minute recollections of lost foods, environs, stimuli, and ritual. Though clearly rooted in Latin American veins of magic realism, particularly Neruda, her formidible prose also evokes contemporary detail-oriented fantasists like Grace Paley and Stuart Dybek. Agos°n’s courage in tackling thorny topics—Jewish diaspora, cultural estrangement, Latin American fascism—renders a highly personal narrative powerful and appealing. (8 b&w illus.)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-8135-2701-5

Page Count: 200

Publisher: Rutgers Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 1999

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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 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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This a book of earlier, philosophical essays concerned with the essential "absurdity" of life and the concept that- to overcome the strong tendency to suicide in every thoughtful man-one must accept life on its own terms with its values of revolt, liberty and passion. A dreary thesis- derived from and distorting the beliefs of the founders of existentialism, Jaspers, Heldegger and Kierkegaard, etc., the point of view seems peculiarly outmoded. It is based on the experience of war and the resistance, liberally laced with Andre Gide's excessive intellectualism. The younger existentialists such as Sartre and Camus, with their gift for the terse novel or intense drama, seem to have omitted from their philosophy all the deep religiosity which permeates the work of the great existentialist thinkers. This contributes to a basic lack of vitality in themselves, in these essays, and ten years after the war Camus seems unaware that the life force has healed old wounds... Largely for avant garde aesthetes and his special coterie.

Pub Date: Sept. 26, 1955

ISBN: 0679733736

Page Count: 228

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Sept. 19, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1955

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