Maybe it was all just (mostly) fun, but Torgoff's father’s question remains unanswered: “What did any of it really mean?”

CAN’T FIND MY WAY HOME

AMERICA IN THE GREAT STONED AGE, 1945-2000

Music writer Torgoff informally collects scenes from the illicit drug culture during the second half of the 20th century.

As all the singular and emblematic figures in the dope world over the last 50 years come walking through the author’s door, he passes on their words—good, bad, indifferent, paranoid—or tenders a bit of their drug history if they’re dead. Torgoff is not here to pass judgment, but rather to chronicle the rise of illicit drug use. He takes the middle road. Demonizing dope is absurd and pointless, he argues, and it’s equally nutty to claim that drugs are harmless, as a percentage of users will always experience abuse problems. He simply wants to know what Timothy Leary and William Burroughs were after. (The former said he learned “that consciousness and intelligence can be systematically expanded”; the latter noted after his first injection, “Well, now, that’s very interesting”). Allen Ginsberg’s “optical consciousness” interests him too. Torgoff paints a sad picture of Charlie Parker, who emerges as something of an idiot savant with one overwhelming fixation enwrapping one prodigious talent, and an equally sad picture of the Summer of Love: as novelist Tom Robbins said, “All utopias attract thugs, like iron filings to a magnet.” The hope for utopia, Torgoff notes, forms a major part of dope’s attraction, as do the brilliance of drug-fueled synesthesia and the wildness of literary forms created by users. In the 1960s, he recalls, smoking dope led to other kinds of rebellion: “All you had to do was get high to understand in the most visceral sense that the government was lying about pot; once you saw through that hoax, you started questioning what the authorities were saying about everything else.” Or maybe you got lost to bad acid or crack. Anything was possible.

Maybe it was all just (mostly) fun, but Torgoff's father’s question remains unanswered: “What did any of it really mean?”

Pub Date: May 13, 2004

ISBN: 0-7432-3010-8

Page Count: 560

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2004

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

NIGHT

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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A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

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WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

A neurosurgeon with a passion for literature tragically finds his perfect subject after his diagnosis of terminal lung cancer.

Writing isn’t brain surgery, but it’s rare when someone adept at the latter is also so accomplished at the former. Searching for meaning and purpose in his life, Kalanithi pursued a doctorate in literature and had felt certain that he wouldn’t enter the field of medicine, in which his father and other members of his family excelled. “But I couldn’t let go of the question,” he writes, after realizing that his goals “didn’t quite fit in an English department.” “Where did biology, morality, literature and philosophy intersect?” So he decided to set aside his doctoral dissertation and belatedly prepare for medical school, which “would allow me a chance to find answers that are not in books, to find a different sort of sublime, to forge relationships with the suffering, and to keep following the question of what makes human life meaningful, even in the face of death and decay.” The author’s empathy undoubtedly made him an exceptional doctor, and the precision of his prose—as well as the moral purpose underscoring it—suggests that he could have written a good book on any subject he chose. Part of what makes this book so essential is the fact that it was written under a death sentence following the diagnosis that upended his life, just as he was preparing to end his residency and attract offers at the top of his profession. Kalanithi learned he might have 10 years to live or perhaps five. Should he return to neurosurgery (he could and did), or should he write (he also did)? Should he and his wife have a baby? They did, eight months before he died, which was less than two years after the original diagnosis. “The fact of death is unsettling,” he understates. “Yet there is no other way to live.”

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular clarity.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8840-6

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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