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A study that belabors the obvious and provides little illumination.

Delbanco (English/Univ. of Michigan) must have intended this as a bookend to his earlier study, Lastingness: The Art of Old Age (2011). Through a selection process that seems arbitrary, he focuses on (in chronological order) author Stephen Crane, painter Dora Carrington and composer George Gershwin.

“I wanted figures close to our own historical moment yet sufficiently removed so perspective can be gained,” writes the author. “[T]hey are of our time and place, though not precisely in it, and we have the advantage of hindsight when assessing their careers.” Plenty of others could have made the cut, but these three in particular are distinguished more by their differences than what they have in common: two Americans, one Brit; one suicide, one dead as the result of ill health, one blindsided by a tumor; one extremely well known: “As a songwriter, composer, performer, Gershwin has few if any equals in this nation’s history,” one very little known: “the most neglected serious painter of her time” though one who “accomplished so little and is so little known,” one who is mainly known for one novel, though he preferred his poems and was a masterful writer of short stories. Each has a chapter, which is mainly a biographical sketch with some criticism of their work interwoven, and each inspires the sort of what-if conjecture, that can never be answered or supported, concerning the artistic progression of such artists if they had lived through a second act. As Delbanco writes of Gershwin, “It’s hard to guess what would have happened had he progressed to middle or old age….Maturation takes time.” He later suggests that “the art of youth” is “best summarized by a single word: ‘energy.’ ” A coda covers the author’s own experience, with a first novel that earned prominence that later fiction didn’t sustain.

A study that belabors the obvious and provides little illumination.

Pub Date: Nov. 19, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-544-11446-3

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Amazon/New Harvest

Review Posted Online: Sept. 29, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2013

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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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