Secrest ably chronicles Schiap’s career and social life, mining others’ memoirs and reflections to fashion a colorful...

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ELSA SCHIAPARELLI

A BIOGRAPHY

The life of a flamboyant couturière.

Italian-born designer Elsa Schiaparelli (1890-1973) was a fashion star in Paris from 1927 until she closed her atelier in 1954. Known for clothes with “a daredevil swagger,” she favored bold colors, thickly padded shoulders and surrealist motifs, many inspired by Salvador Dali: a hat shaped like a shoe; a diaphanous evening dress screen printed with a gigantic lobster; a jacket whose pockets featured glistening red lips. Her contributions to mainstream fashion included the jacket dress, the wrap dress and visible zippers. Schiap, as she was known, was an egocentric exhibitionist who became a dress designer “by accident; it seemed an easy way to earn money.” And earn money she did, with businesses in Paris, London and New York that included perfumes, jewelry, and extensive clothing and accessory manufacturers. According to her daughter, she was a “mad socializer. Mummy got dressed up every night for her umpteen dinner parties, leaving me with a nanny.” Schiap needed to be always on the move, to be seen at every party and theater opening and to travel extensively. Surrounded by the rich and famous, she seemed, nevertheless, to crave affection. A friend described her as “a bit of a bulldog, setting up barriers so one did not dare approach her.” Prolific biographer Secrest (Shoot the Widow: Adventures of a Biographer in Search of Her Subject, 2007, etc.) faced the barrier of finding few primary sources: virtually no letters, no diary and a memoir written in the third person that Secrest calls “an example of an evasiveness that was almost automatic, pages of superfluous description of minor events and irrelevant anecdotes” in which Schiap made only “cryptic references” to her marriage and daughter. A granddaughter refused to cooperate with the author, as well, and her friends were dead.

Secrest ably chronicles Schiap’s career and social life, mining others’ memoirs and reflections to fashion a colorful portrait of her “famously difficult” subject—but Schiap keeps the secrets of her heart.

Pub Date: Oct. 7, 2014

ISBN: 978-0307701596

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: July 16, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2014

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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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