A beacon of a book amid a sea of darkness.

Memoir meets journalistic activism in this examination of dementia as an epidemic in an era of greater longevity.

Though award-winning British journalist Gerrard has published novels under her own name (The Twilight Hour, 2014, etc.), she has reached a wider readership as half of the husband-and-wife duo who write a mystery series as Nicci French. Fans and newcomers alike will find this memoir revelatory and moving, as the author recounts her experience with her late father’s dementia, which inspired her to co-found the advocacy group John’s Campaign. “To explore dementia’s meaning and its excruciating losses,” she writes, “is to think about how far we as a society and as individuals are responsible for the suffering of others: what we owe each other, what we care about, what matters in the world we all share. Who matters.” The most personal parts of her inquiry carry both an emotional and a philosophical charge. As more people live longer, more will suffer from dementia, a disease that affects not only the patient, but friends and families, the medical profession, the economy, and society as a whole. She reaches beyond her own experience for interviews with others facing similar challenges. Though presenting each as a continuous case history, she weaves multiple threads throughout the narrative, along with expert testimony and statistical support. Some readers may find it difficult to keep the specifics straight as Gerrard switches among families dealing with the disease, but the range of experiences and perspectives remains illuminating. The more the author seems like a journalistic observer, taking notes from the sidelines, the flatter the tone, though the best writing is indelible: “When did my father’s dementia begin? We don’t know. We’ll never be able to put a finger on the danger spot: there. Like fog that streaks up stealthily, imperceptibly, until the foghorn booms and suddenly there are dark shapes looming at you out of shrouded darkness—you think you’ll notice it, but often you don’t. Then you can’t.”

A beacon of a book amid a sea of darkness.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-52196-9

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: May 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2019


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

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