A sprawling record of a unique adventure.

ALTA CALIFORNIA

FROM SAN DIEGO TO SAN FRANCISCO, A JOURNEY ON FOOT TO REDISCOVER THE GOLDEN STATE

A chronicle of the author’s 12-week, 650-mile journey, on foot, from San Diego to San Francisco, tracing a Spanish expedition of 64 men and 50 mules led by Capt. Gaspar de Portolá from July 14 to Nov. 6, 1769.

As journalist and essayist Neely (Coast Range: A Collection From the Pacific Edge, 2016) writes, the party was tasked with mapping Monterey Bay, which Spain saw as a strategic outpost, and determining sites for future Catholic missions to convert some 300,000 natives and help the nation hold coveted territory. Several members of Portolá’s expedition kept journals to which the author refers frequently as he compares his own journey with that of his predecessors. Neely’s task has no international consequences: He just wanted to get acquainted with the land, and he shares his experiences in meticulous, sometimes overwhelming detail. Throughout the narrative, the author offers precise and often lyrical descriptions of landscapes and vistas, sky and sea, flora and fauna. He recounts his conversations, the food he ate, fences and No Trespassing warnings that impeded him, menacing traffic, signs of urban blight (graffiti, dumpsters, dumped trash), and surprising insect life: a tarantula as big as his palm, for example, with bristles “tinged with red, especially on its bulbous abdomen.” He was also bitten, between his toes, by big ants as he nestled in his sleeping bag. Along the way, Neely inevitably encountered tourist sites. At Mission San Juan Capistrano, for example, he notes the “commercialization and fetishization of California’s missions, trafficking in mystique and fantasy.” He visited the La Brea Tar Pits Museum, where he engaged with an interactive display inviting him to “Discover what it’s like to be trapped in tar.” He also saw evidence of opulent wealth at the Getty Museum, which conveys “a sepulchral feel, as if Getty’s bones were hidden behind some unidentified stone block,” and the grand 165-room Hearst Castle, which overlooks “the gilded, retina-burning Pacific.”

A sprawling record of a unique adventure.

Pub Date: Nov. 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-64009-165-8

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Counterpoint

Review Posted Online: Aug. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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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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A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

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WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

A neurosurgeon with a passion for literature tragically finds his perfect subject after his diagnosis of terminal lung cancer.

Writing isn’t brain surgery, but it’s rare when someone adept at the latter is also so accomplished at the former. Searching for meaning and purpose in his life, Kalanithi pursued a doctorate in literature and had felt certain that he wouldn’t enter the field of medicine, in which his father and other members of his family excelled. “But I couldn’t let go of the question,” he writes, after realizing that his goals “didn’t quite fit in an English department.” “Where did biology, morality, literature and philosophy intersect?” So he decided to set aside his doctoral dissertation and belatedly prepare for medical school, which “would allow me a chance to find answers that are not in books, to find a different sort of sublime, to forge relationships with the suffering, and to keep following the question of what makes human life meaningful, even in the face of death and decay.” The author’s empathy undoubtedly made him an exceptional doctor, and the precision of his prose—as well as the moral purpose underscoring it—suggests that he could have written a good book on any subject he chose. Part of what makes this book so essential is the fact that it was written under a death sentence following the diagnosis that upended his life, just as he was preparing to end his residency and attract offers at the top of his profession. Kalanithi learned he might have 10 years to live or perhaps five. Should he return to neurosurgery (he could and did), or should he write (he also did)? Should he and his wife have a baby? They did, eight months before he died, which was less than two years after the original diagnosis. “The fact of death is unsettling,” he understates. “Yet there is no other way to live.”

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular clarity.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8840-6

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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