Not self-help by any stretch, but it will be of interest to anyone recently touched by death.

A series of personal essays about death, by someone who has seen more than her share of it recently and who, due to her own advancing multiple sclerosis, has reason to contemplate her own.

As she’s done throughout her earlier work (Waist High in the World, 1997, etc.), Mairs draws on her own often harrowing experience to illuminate a subject Americans find difficult to confront: in this case, death. As she puts it at the start, “few seem capable of contemplating their own end . . . I thought I might try.” In clear, unaffected prose that quickly establishes—along with her candor—an intimacy with the reader, Mairs begins by explaining her feelings toward her own impending death. At this point, her MS has confined her to a wheelchair, rendering even the simplest things, such as using the toilet, major undertakings. As someone who views death as both a natural condition of life and who also believes that the essence of a person survives death in some form, Mairs appears to have attained an enviable equanimity respecting her own mortality. Yet even she concedes that the prospect awakes a nostalgia for those pleasures that make us human, like the “bob and snuffle of a newborn’s head against a shoulder.” As she puts it, “I find myself overcome with grief for a slew of ‘nevers’ and ‘never agains.’ ” Despite the obvious loss that death entails, Mairs urges us to confront it openly and without fear. Those mourning loved ones, for instance, suffer when their friends, out of a misguided sense of politeness or simple embarrassment, fail to acknowledge the death with anything more than a mumbled platitude. In a similar vein, Mairs warns that death with dignity is possible, but only if death is contemplated in advance so that the end, particularly with respect to medical intervention, can be controlled.

Not self-help by any stretch, but it will be of interest to anyone recently touched by death.

Pub Date: Oct. 15, 2001

ISBN: 0-8070-6248-0

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Beacon Press

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2001


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



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

Close Quickview