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With its icy wit, edgy wedding of lyricism and prose, and unflinching look at personal and public demons, Gurba’s...

A gritty memoir exploring gender politics and growing up mixed-race Chicana.

Gifted experimental writer Gurba (Painting Their Portraits in Winter, 2015, etc.) takes a hard look back at her adolescent and early college years in Southern California. A self-described “early-onset feminist,” the author is deeply invested in and intimately aware of the construction of identity. As she explores with wry humor the history of her attraction to women—“I grabbed a magazine and realized boobs were the best thing ever….I was eight but I knew what I wanted”—and how the unique blending of her mother’s Mexican heritage with her father’s Mexican-Polish roots framed her “Molack” (“Mexican” and “Polack”) worldview and influenced her studies at the University of California, she also tells the harrowing story of Sophia Castro Torres, another Chicana, whose fate was less kind. Early in the narrative, which unfolds in spare prose vignettes, Gurba writes, “guilt is a ghost,” and she admits that she is haunted by the memory of Sophia, a migrant worker who was raped and bludgeoned to death on a baseball diamond in Gurba’s hometown. The author not only feels compelled to bear witness to the horrific end of an innocent woman who supported herself picking strawberries and whose life was further erased by the media by being dubbed “a transient”; through the use of inverted chronology, she also slowly reveals her own struggles with PTSD—“the only mental illness you can give someone”—as a survivor of sexual assault by the same perpetrator who killed Sophia. Positioning herself as “the final girl,” the one in horror movies who “gets to live” but “understands that her job is to tell the story,” Gurba attempts to break down walls of indifference, whether through form or probing content.

With its icy wit, edgy wedding of lyricism and prose, and unflinching look at personal and public demons, Gurba’s introspective memoir is brave and significant.

Pub Date: Nov. 7, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-56689-491-3

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Coffee House

Review Posted Online: Aug. 20, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2017

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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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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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