AN AMERICAN GIRL

THE TRIALS AND CHARMS OF GROWING UP IN 1930S AMERICA

From New York Times editorial-board member and veteran columnist Cantwell, a memoir of growing up during the 1930's and 40's in the town of Bristol, New Hampshire. ``I have come down with the Bristol Complaint,'' Cantwell announces early in the book: ``People who have the Bristol Complaint can never leave town. The elm trees snag them. So does the harbor and the wild roses and the history.'' Cantwell does, of course, manage to leave town, but the town remains inside her, and, here, she brings it to her readers all the way back from its history of colonial immigrants and traders, of General LaFayette (who once camped there, but left when winter set in) and of ``Philip, King of the Wampanoags'' (the bones of whose people lie under the ground)—and on through the lives of her beloved grandparents, known as Ganny and Gampy (she still believes Gampy was once a bootlegger); of her own parents, Leo Cantwell and Mary Lonergan; and thus to the birth and growing up of Mary Lee Cantwell and her younger sister, Diana. Seldom have a town and its memoirist been more perfectly blended than they are here (``It was as if Bristol were a book I couldn't put down,'' says the author), and in her subtle and delicately told tales of being a young child, of getting polio, of remembering WW II, of learning the stark cruelties of social class, of struggling into adolescence, of finally graduating from high school and getting ready to leave home—in all of these, Cantwell embraces sentiment without ever becoming sentimental, and makes her words fall into place with a quiet perfection. ``If I don't get out of Bristol it will always be three o'clock in the afternoon,'' she says; and yet, even so, amid much, much more, she remembers for us a long-ago afternoon with her high-school girlfriends when ``we walked through air that was as silver as the bay.'' Evocative, lovely, deeply felt, and mature personal writing about a past that's gone.

Pub Date: June 1, 1992

ISBN: 0-394-57502-4

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1992

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An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

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BECOMING

The former first lady opens up about her early life, her journey to the White House, and the eight history-making years that followed.

It’s not surprising that Obama grew up a rambunctious kid with a stubborn streak and an “I’ll show you” attitude. After all, it takes a special kind of moxie to survive being the first African-American FLOTUS—and not only survive, but thrive. For eight years, we witnessed the adversity the first family had to face, and now we get to read what it was really like growing up in a working-class family on Chicago’s South Side and ending up at the world’s most famous address. As the author amply shows, her can-do attitude was daunted at times by racism, leaving her wondering if she was good enough. Nevertheless, she persisted, graduating from Chicago’s first magnet high school, Princeton, and Harvard Law School, and pursuing careers in law and the nonprofit world. With her characteristic candor and dry wit, she recounts the story of her fateful meeting with her future husband. Once they were officially a couple, her feelings for him turned into a “toppling blast of lust, gratitude, fulfillment, wonder.” But for someone with a “natural resistance to chaos,” being the wife of an ambitious politician was no small feat, and becoming a mother along the way added another layer of complexity. Throw a presidential campaign into the mix, and even the most assured woman could begin to crack under the pressure. Later, adjusting to life in the White House was a formidable challenge for the self-described “control freak”—not to mention the difficulty of sparing their daughters the ugly side of politics and preserving their privacy as much as possible. Through it all, Obama remained determined to serve with grace and help others through initiatives like the White House garden and her campaign to fight childhood obesity. And even though she deems herself “not a political person,” she shares frank thoughts about the 2016 election.

An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6313-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 30, 2018

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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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