Shows that bright shards of clear prose can serve as windows into the unknown.

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ENCOUNTER

A collection of essays, book, music and art reviews, ruminations and recollections by the celebrated Franco-Czech novelist (Ignorance, 2002, etc.).

Kundera's mind is an expansive forest, and he visits many trees in these pieces, some more than a dozen years old. In some cases he writes about painters, musicians and novelists whose names and works are widely known (Céline, Philip Roth, Beethoven, Breton). Elsewhere, he expatiates about the creations of artists whose identities are known principally by the cognoscenti, companions and countrymen. The latter include the music of Iannis Xenakis, the paintings of Ernest Breleur and the writings of Danilo Kis. Regardless of the subject, Kundera's prose glows, sometimes in sufficient strength to illuminate even the most obscure of his subjects. The pieces all share a compression of style—his few words say much—and even some experimentation. In an essay on painter Francis Bacon, for example, he alternates 1995 observations with what he had written initially in 1977. (He employs a similar strategy later in a piece about Xenakis' music.) Kundera writes with passion about what he views as the foolishness of surrendering a friendship to political differences, and he snarls about the deleterious influence of film and television in a piece about the 100th anniversary of the motion picture, which he labels “the principal agent of stupidity” in the world. The author marvels about the Allied occupation forces after World War II, especially the Americans, who seemed so sublimely confident in their divine election and sanction. Continually, he revisits the hopeful Prague spring of 1968 and its hideous aftermath and agrees with Czech writer Vera Linhartova, who wrote how exile can be transformative for an artist. He chides biographers who are enraptured with the sex lives, and even body odors, of their subjects, and he wonders about the artistic portrayal of the ugly.

Shows that bright shards of clear prose can serve as windows into the unknown.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-06-189441-1

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 14, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2010

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Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

A LITTLE HISTORY OF POETRY

A light-speed tour of (mostly) Western poetry, from the 4,000-year-old Gilgamesh to the work of Australian poet Les Murray, who died in 2019.

In the latest entry in the publisher’s Little Histories series, Carey, an emeritus professor at Oxford whose books include What Good Are the Arts? and The Unexpected Professor: An Oxford Life in Books, offers a quick definition of poetry—“relates to language as music relates to noise. It is language made special”—before diving in to poetry’s vast history. In most chapters, the author deals with only a few writers, but as the narrative progresses, he finds himself forced to deal with far more than a handful. In his chapter on 20th-century political poets, for example, he talks about 14 writers in seven pages. Carey displays a determination to inform us about who the best poets were—and what their best poems were. The word “greatest” appears continually; Chaucer was “the greatest medieval English poet,” and Langston Hughes was “the greatest male poet” of the Harlem Renaissance. For readers who need a refresher—or suggestions for the nightstand—Carey provides the best-known names and the most celebrated poems, including Paradise Lost (about which the author has written extensively), “Kubla Khan,” “Ozymandias,” “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” Wordsworth and Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads, which “changed the course of English poetry.” Carey explains some poetic technique (Hopkins’ “sprung rhythm”) and pauses occasionally to provide autobiographical tidbits—e.g., John Masefield, who wrote the famous “Sea Fever,” “hated the sea.” We learn, as well, about the sexuality of some poets (Auden was bisexual), and, especially later on, Carey discusses the demons that drove some of them, Robert Lowell and Sylvia Plath among them. Refreshingly, he includes many women in the volume—all the way back to Sappho—and has especially kind words for Marianne Moore and Elizabeth Bishop, who share a chapter.

Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-300-23222-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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SLEEPERS

An extraordinary true tale of torment, retribution, and loyalty that's irresistibly readable in spite of its intrusively melodramatic prose. Starting out with calculated, movie-ready anecdotes about his boyhood gang, Carcaterra's memoir takes a hairpin turn into horror and then changes tack once more to relate grippingly what must be one of the most outrageous confidence schemes ever perpetrated. Growing up in New York's Hell's Kitchen in the 1960s, former New York Daily News reporter Carcaterra (A Safe Place, 1993) had three close friends with whom he played stickball, bedeviled nuns, and ran errands for the neighborhood Mob boss. All this is recalled through a dripping mist of nostalgia; the streetcorner banter is as stilted and coy as a late Bowery Boys film. But a third of the way in, the story suddenly takes off: In 1967 the four friends seriously injured a man when they more or less unintentionally rolled a hot-dog cart down the steps of a subway entrance. The boys, aged 11 to 14, were packed off to an upstate New York reformatory so brutal it makes Sing Sing sound like Sunnybrook Farm. The guards continually raped and beat them, at one point tossing all of them into solitary confinement, where rats gnawed at their wounds and the menu consisted of oatmeal soaked in urine. Two of Carcaterra's friends were dehumanized by their year upstate, eventually becoming prominent gangsters. In 1980, they happened upon the former guard who had been their principal torturer and shot him dead. The book's stunning denouement concerns the successful plot devised by the author and his third friend, now a Manhattan assistant DA, to free the two killers and to exact revenge against the remaining ex-guards who had scarred their lives so irrevocably. Carcaterra has run a moral and emotional gauntlet, and the resulting book, despite its flaws, is disturbing and hard to forget. (Film rights to Propaganda; author tour)

Pub Date: July 10, 1995

ISBN: 0-345-39606-5

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1995

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