MARY BUTTS

SCENES FROM THE LIFE

A neglected British modernist writer is resurrected in exhaustive personal detail but only partly convincing critical measure. Between the world wars, Mary Butts (18901937) wrote several esteemed works that influenced and reflected the preferences of the age, including historical fiction (Scenes from the Life of Cleopatra) and contemporary novels (The Death of Felicity Tavernier), memoir (The Crystal Cabinet), short stories, and criticism. To better understand her ``progress and achievements,'' British writer Blondel, in her first biography, takes a chronological approach and makes liberal use of Butts's diaries, which provide a centerpiece for this narrative. Revealing even more than Butts's artistic development, the chronology provides a fine composite view of a talented, manipulative, self-involved, complicated woman. She was devoted to her art, reading constantly and writing regularly; but such devotion meant she left her daughter's upbringing to others and antagonized friends and relatives with cries for money. Of a wide, odd mind, she was a student of classical history but equally interested in magic and the supernatural and finally embraced Catholicism. She overused alcohol and at points was addicted to opiates. At her death in 1937 at age 46, Butts was still important: Faber editor T.S. Eliot expressed interest in publishing a volume of her short stories. Yet now she is a literary afterthought. Why she slipped from the modernist circle- -premature death, embrace of religion, literary fashion—does not occupy Blondel, and the matter wouldn't stick if she more satisfyingly illuminated Butts's talents. Her analyses of those talents are informative (e.g., showing her use of metaphor and her sense of place), but they often do not reveal what distinguishes them as enduring. That reviewers of the day compared her work to Joyce's and Eliot's is not enough. As a sole gateway to a lost writer, this is significant for students of British modernist writing; but only more critical dialogue could establish her place in the canon. (32 photos, not seen)

Pub Date: Jan. 23, 1998

ISBN: 0-929701-55-0

Page Count: 600

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 1997

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An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

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BECOMING

The former first lady opens up about her early life, her journey to the White House, and the eight history-making years that followed.

It’s not surprising that Obama grew up a rambunctious kid with a stubborn streak and an “I’ll show you” attitude. After all, it takes a special kind of moxie to survive being the first African-American FLOTUS—and not only survive, but thrive. For eight years, we witnessed the adversity the first family had to face, and now we get to read what it was really like growing up in a working-class family on Chicago’s South Side and ending up at the world’s most famous address. As the author amply shows, her can-do attitude was daunted at times by racism, leaving her wondering if she was good enough. Nevertheless, she persisted, graduating from Chicago’s first magnet high school, Princeton, and Harvard Law School, and pursuing careers in law and the nonprofit world. With her characteristic candor and dry wit, she recounts the story of her fateful meeting with her future husband. Once they were officially a couple, her feelings for him turned into a “toppling blast of lust, gratitude, fulfillment, wonder.” But for someone with a “natural resistance to chaos,” being the wife of an ambitious politician was no small feat, and becoming a mother along the way added another layer of complexity. Throw a presidential campaign into the mix, and even the most assured woman could begin to crack under the pressure. Later, adjusting to life in the White House was a formidable challenge for the self-described “control freak”—not to mention the difficulty of sparing their daughters the ugly side of politics and preserving their privacy as much as possible. Through it all, Obama remained determined to serve with grace and help others through initiatives like the White House garden and her campaign to fight childhood obesity. And even though she deems herself “not a political person,” she shares frank thoughts about the 2016 election.

An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6313-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 30, 2018

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

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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