A rollicking, thoroughly refreshing debut.



An ex–Peace Corps volunteer chronicles the two years he spent living and working deep in the Chinese hinterlands.

With intelligence and zesty good humor, Levy tells the story of his sojourn as an ESL teacher in Guiyang. “In American political terms,” he writes, “it was red China, as opposed to the blue, progressive, latte-sipping China of the coast.” As the only white native speaker of English at Guizhou University, Levy soon became the center of attention. But it was his Jewish identity—which he shared with Chinese cultural icon Karl Marx—that made him a particular object of student fascination. Drafted as the leader of the Guizhou Jewish Friday Night English and Cooking Corner Club, he prepared challah bread on his day of Sabbath, “no matter what Rabbinic rules were broken.” Levy’s students and colleagues also pressed him into service as resident love advisor. As one girl told him, “Americans like him [had] been falling in love since Shakespeare and [had] many examples to follow.” Chinese people did not. The college basketball coach eventually recruited him as the star player on the Guizhou team, and Levy earned the moniker “Friendship Jew” and notoriety for his hirsute body. At first bewildered by culture where guanxi (personal connections) were crucial to upward mobility and where Wal-Mart, Pizza Hut and KFC were considered the height of Western cosmopolitanism, the author learned to accept contradiction as one of the defining trait of modern China. His most profound insights came from a group of graduate students he taught who identified with writers of the Lost Generation. Like these men and women, the students “lived in a world that seemed unmoored from traditional values.” Knowing that he could change neither the world in which he found himself nor the fate of those whom he befriended, Levy found unexpected comfort in the pop-culture wisdom of a teen singing sensation named Li Yuchun: “You cannot change the course of a river, [b]ut you can learn to appreciate its beauty and power.”

A rollicking, thoroughly refreshing debut.

Pub Date: July 5, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-8050-9196-0

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: April 18, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2011

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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

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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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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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