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WHEN DEATH TAKES SOMETHING FROM YOU GIVE IT BACK

CARL'S BOOK

A stirring, inventive masterpiece of heartbreak.

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A memoir of the author’s struggle to find the words to mourn her son’s death.

On March 16, 2015, Aidt’s son, Carl, died after throwing himself out of a fifth-floor window; he had suffered a psychotic break after consuming psilocybin mushrooms. It takes a long time—nearly halfway through this slim, devastating book—for Danish poet and fiction writer Aidt (Rock, Paper, Scissors, 2015, etc.) to state those facts so plainly. But her sense of grief is present from the first page, and she deploys multiple rhetorical elements—poetry, literary criticism, journals, all-caps, exclamatory text—to reckon with her loss. She returns over and over to her memory of the phone call delivering the news, adding new details each time, as if bracing herself to express the fullness of the event. Between those moments, Aidt bemoans the impossibility of putting her feelings into words through run-on anger (“I hate writing don’t want to write anymore I’m writing burning hate my anger is useless a howling cry”), unusually structured poetic passages (“Panic like a geyser inside the body / shoots its poison-water / up / from underground / to / the reptilian brain”), and sober contemplation of other grief-struck books such as The Epic of Gilgamesh, Joan Didion’s Blue Nights, and Anne Carson’s Nox. The difficulty of articulating grief is itself a cliché of the grief memoir, but Aidt’s shattering of genre forms both underscores the feeling of speechlessness and gives it a palpable shape. (The book’s orthography bolsters that sense, playing with font sizes, line breaks, and italicization; translator Newman handles these rhetorical shifts with grace and clarity.) Carl’s death thrusted Aidt into a world where “nothing resonates or can be established, where nothing in the entire world is recognizable.” Yet this book is an alchemical feat, giving shape to the most profound sense of absence.

A stirring, inventive masterpiece of heartbreak.

Pub Date: Sept. 3, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-56689-560-6

Page Count: 152

Publisher: Coffee House

Review Posted Online: June 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2019

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 5, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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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

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