Inspiring recollections of love, literature, and a search for meaning.

An expanded edition of a 1978 memoir about poetry and one’s purpose in midcentury America.

Originally published by Black Sparrow Press and now saved from obscurity, this sonorous autobiography (and only prose publication) from painter and poet Oppen (Poems & Transpositions, 1980, etc.) chronicles the lives of two literary soul mates. Born in 1908 in Kalispell, Montana, the author grew up with a desire not only to leave her rural lifestyle but to pursue a lifelong conversation, learning “as much as we are able of the universe we are part of.” She went to Oregon State University, where she met her future husband, George; although she was expelled after their first date for breaking curfew, their bond was cast. “Our joined lives,” she recalls, “seem[ed] to us both choice and inevitability.” Oppen’s narrative shifts seamlessly into a collective memoir as she chronicles the couple’s travels from San Francisco to New York, Paris, and Mexico, tested on their way by the hardships of World War II. Of their many travels, Oppen quotes Sherwood Anderson: “we wanted to know if we were any good out there.” Although George won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1969, Mary’s memoir is by no means in his shadow; their love and intellectual union is rhapsodically mutual and an inspiring achievement to behold. Midcentury poetry aficionados will enjoy another layer: George was part of the “objectivist” poetry movement, and Charles Reznikoff and Louis Zukofsky appear throughout the Oppens’ travels. While these poets challenged the conceptual side of their craft, Mary looked to the entire literary canon for her voice. On Virginia Woolf, she writes, “Virginia herself found in her writing what life meant to her, and reading her works I found a little more of what life meant to me.” The author divined meaning and guidance from the literary lives around her and channeled those forces into a passionate memoir that will continue to resound with readers even decades after its publication.

Inspiring recollections of love, literature, and a search for meaning.

Pub Date: April 1, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-8112-2947-0

Page Count: 304

Publisher: New Directions

Review Posted Online: Dec. 8, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020


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

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



Well-told and admonitory.

Young-rags-to-mature-riches memoir by broker and motivational speaker Gardner.

Born and raised in the Milwaukee ghetto, the author pulled himself up from considerable disadvantage. He was fatherless, and his adored mother wasn’t always around; once, as a child, he spied her at a family funeral accompanied by a prison guard. When beautiful, evanescent Moms was there, Chris also had to deal with Freddie “I ain’t your goddamn daddy!” Triplett, one of the meanest stepfathers in recent literature. Chris did “the dozens” with the homies, boosted a bit and in the course of youthful adventure was raped. His heroes were Miles Davis, James Brown and Muhammad Ali. Meanwhile, at the behest of Moms, he developed a fondness for reading. He joined the Navy and became a medic (preparing badass Marines for proctology), and a proficient lab technician. Moving up in San Francisco, married and then divorced, he sold medical supplies. He was recruited as a trainee at Dean Witter just around the time he became a homeless single father. All his belongings in a shopping cart, Gardner sometimes slept with his young son at the office (apparently undiscovered by the night cleaning crew). The two also frequently bedded down in a public restroom. After Gardner’s talents were finally appreciated by the firm of Bear Stearns, his American Dream became real. He got the cool duds, hot car and fine ladies so coveted from afar back in the day. He even had a meeting with Nelson Mandela. Through it all, he remained a prideful parent. His own no-daddy blues are gone now.

Well-told and admonitory.

Pub Date: June 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-06-074486-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2006

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