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While the book occasionally lacks direction, readers will find comfort in the fact that Victorian stories are usually...

Two stories intersect 150 years apart in this unusual historical memoir.

Completing her doctorate in Victorian literature, Stevens (Bleaker House, 2017, etc.) chose to focus on the work of Elizabeth Gaskell, a close friend of Charlotte Brontë who was tasked with writing her biography. Studying Gaskell with uninhibited obsession, she quickly noticed the parallels between her life and that of her subject. “I had never encountered a writer who could fill a page so entirely with herself….I was caught up in her life almost instantly,” writes Stevens. Just as Gaskell’s book, The Life of Charlotte Brontë, was due for publication, she escaped to Rome to avoid any criticism of her work. Ultimately, Gaskell’s book “took two years to write and more pain and worry than you could possibly have anticipated. There were so many people to insult….There were so many people, you said, whom you wanted to libel.” In the process, Gaskell met the love of her life, the notorious critic Charles Eliot Norton. This escape was a trigger for Stevens, who, in 2013, began devouring her letters and imagining what her life must have been like. Meanwhile, Stevens was also dealing with her one true love, Max, who was elusive and reluctant to own up to his feelings. Stevens weaves a text that oscillates between the late 1850s and the mid-2000s, systemically identifying parallels between her and Gaskell’s respective romantic lives and underlining the different roles women played in these two very different societies. Though the result is an interesting and beautifully written contrast, the intention behind the book remains unclear, and readers may feel adrift at certain points.

While the book occasionally lacks direction, readers will find comfort in the fact that Victorian stories are usually entertaining, and Stevens knows how to tell her own with literary punch.

Pub Date: Aug. 7, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-385-54350-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 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...

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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