POOR YOUR SOUL

Beautifully written, at just the right emotional pitch. Of interest to all readers but likely to find a home among bereaved...

An unexpectedly hopeful, but never mawkish, tale of love and loss.

The literature on death is vast, that on the grieving process somewhat smaller, that concerning teratology—in the grimly archaic language of medicine, the birth of “monsters”—smaller still. With grace and compassion, Ptacin describes the roller-coaster plunge from cautious elation to profound sorrow as romance (“We fell in love. Exposed kneecaps and collarbones, and entire evenings spent devouring one another; we were like wild forces”) yielded to pregnancy. Then pregnancy became ever fraught as the first “abnormal” tests began to come in: “I thought maybe it was my fault,” the author writes of the first iffy report, “maybe I forgot to take my folic acid one morning, maybe I was too stressed and cantankerous and it was poisonous to the baby.” After reeling off a list of deformities—spina bifida, clubbed feet, irregular heartbeat, lack of brain development—the doctor asked whether Ptacin still wanted to know the sex of her baby. The question then became what to do, how to reconcile modern medicine and the health of the mother with Catholic doctrine and the beliefs that she, her beloved, and her family held—not to mention the opinions of those with no stake in the matter. “If I choose to terminate,” she writes, “I’ll be what the pro-lifers hate.” Her choice is heartbreaking and shattering, and it makes for difficult reading; in the end, Ptacin suggests, there is nothing to say, only acknowledgment that something terrible has happened and the need to summon the will to go on. In all this, the author’s Polish-immigrant mother emerges as a wise counselor and moral anchor: “Poor baby. Poor her soul. It is very sad,” she said, and that is just right. But Ptacin herself, who is neither heroic nor helpless, also rises in our estimation, even as she sinks in her grief.

Beautifully written, at just the right emotional pitch. Of interest to all readers but likely to find a home among bereaved mothers.

Pub Date: Jan. 12, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-61695-634-9

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Soho

Review Posted Online: Dec. 9, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2015

NIGHT

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

THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS

FROM MEAN STREETS TO WALL STREET

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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