A readable and fascinating, if speculative, work of true crime.

MAYHEM

UNANSWERED QUESTIONS ABOUT THE TSARNAEV BROTHERS, THE US GOVERNMENT AND THE BOSTON MARATHON BOMBING

Boston-based journalist McPhee spins a convincing conspiracy theory out of the knowns and unknowns of the Boston Marathon bombing of 2013. Tamerlan Tsarnaev died in a hail of bullets four days after the bombing, and his younger brother, Dzhokhar, awaits execution in a Supermax prison. The Chechen brothers had come with their parents from Russia and received all the benefits of refugees, including citizenship. Yet Tamerlan went back to Russia, becoming radicalized; when he returned to the U.S., he swayed his brother to become an Islamist terrorist. By McPhee’s account, numerous parts of the official story don’t quite add up: “I…believe,” she writes, “the federal government actively impeded a full investigation of the marathon bombings, as well as other crimes potentially involving Tamerlan and associates of his.” Among these crimes was triple murder two years before the bombing. As it had done with the notorious Mafia hit man Whitey Bulger, the FBI’s Boston office, writes the author, made efforts to recruit Tamerlan as an informant—which, she continues, explains why he was allowed to travel back and forth between Russia and the U.S. without a passport and without going through customs “even though he was on two terror watch lists.” In exchange for such privileges and a flow of cash, Tamerlan informed on Chechen rebels, some of whom disappeared or were killed soon after. McPhee holds that the Tsarnaevs did not act alone but instead worked with several associates, all of whom are free. Some of her evidence is circumstantial—she suggests, without hard proof, that the brothers were incapable of building the bombs they detonated by themselves—but the irregularities she notes should prompt a reopened investigation, such as the fact that Tamerlan’s wife was never called to testify: “To this day no one in the US Attorney’s Office will say why.” A readable and fascinating, if speculative, work of true crime.

Pub Date: April 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-58642-261-5

Page Count: 302

Publisher: Steerforth

Review Posted Online: April 20, 2020

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A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.

HAPPY-GO-LUCKY

Sedaris remains stubbornly irreverent even in the face of pandemic lockdowns and social upheaval.

In his previous collection of original essays, Calypso (2018), the author was unusually downbeat, fixated on aging and the deaths of his mother and sister. There’s bad news in this book, too—most notably, the death of his problematic and seemingly indestructible father at 96—but Sedaris generally carries himself more lightly. On a trip to a gun range, he’s puzzled by boxer shorts with a holster feature, which he wishes were called “gunderpants.” He plays along with nursing-home staffers who, hearing a funnyman named David is on the premises, think he’s Dave Chappelle. He’s bemused by his sister Amy’s landing a new apartment to escape her territorial pet rabbit. On tour, he collects sheaves of off-color jokes and tales of sexual self-gratification gone wrong. His relationship with his partner, Hugh, remains contentious, but it’s mellowing. (“After thirty years, sleeping is the new having sex.”) Even more serious stuff rolls off him. Of Covid-19, he writes that “more than eight hundred thousand people have died to date, and I didn’t get to choose a one of them.” The author’s support of Black Lives Matter is tempered by his interest in the earnest conscientiousness of organizers ensuring everyone is fed and hydrated. (He refers to one such person as a “snacktivist.”) Such impolitic material, though, puts serious essays in sharper, more powerful relief. He recalls fending off the flirtations of a 12-year-old boy in France, frustrated by the language barrier and other factors that kept him from supporting a young gay man. His father’s death unlocks a crushing piece about dad’s inappropriate, sexualizing treatment of his children. For years—chronicled in many books—Sedaris labored to elude his father’s criticism. Even in death, though, it proves hard to escape or laugh off.

A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.

Pub Date: May 31, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-316-39245-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: March 11, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2022

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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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