Sweeping history combines with a sensitive rendering of Cliburn’s extraordinary passion.

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MOSCOW NIGHTS

THE VAN CLIBURN STORY—HOW ONE MAN AND HIS PIANO TRANSFORMED THE COLD WAR

The glorious career of the Texan pianist who captured Russian hearts during the Cold War era.

When he was 3 years old, Van Cliburn (1934-2013) told his mother, a piano teacher, that he wanted lessons; at 4, he gave his first concert, at a local college; at 5, he declared he was going to be a concert pianist, like Rachmaninoff. Cliburn exceeded that dream: in 1958, at 23, he won first prize in Russia’s first International Tchaikovsky Piano Competition, a feat that catapulted him to rock-star celebrity. Beloved by Russians, Khrushchev included, and by his own countrymen, Cliburn seemed a balm to Cold War hostilities. Biographer, translator, and journalist Cliff (The Last Crusade: The Epic Voyages of Vasco Da Gama, 2012, etc.), former film and theater critic for the London Times, faces two challenges in his rousing, well-researched biography: the first, ably met, is to convey Cliburn’s astonishing talent and sound; he was “ecstatically lyrical, thrillingly Romantic, and symphonic in scale.” The second challenge, not as fully achieved, is to create an intimate portrait of a man who rebuffed probing questions and carefully honed stories he—and his ever hovering mother— told interviewers and biographers. He was the shy, God-fearing, gangly boy from Texas, warm, effusive, and modest. “When fans told him he had changed their lives, he was genuinely amazed,” writes Cliff. “When public figures extolled him as a hero, he all but scoffed.” But if he did not believe his own legend, still that legend became his public image: “His friends adored him, protected him, smiled at his foibles, and spoke of him with a warm glow—but few felt they really knew him.” Cliff reveals Cliburn’s interest in astrology and the occult; the scandal that resulted when his male companion sued for palimony and lost; and his nine-year retirement, a response to the pressures of fame. Throughout, the author vividly reprises major historical events: Sputnik, Khrushchev’s blustering speeches, the Berlin Wall, Maoist oppression, and Nixon’s visit to China.

Sweeping history combines with a sensitive rendering of Cliburn’s extraordinary passion.

Pub Date: Sept. 20, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-06-233316-2

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: June 30, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2016

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Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

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UNTAMED

More life reflections from the bestselling author on themes of societal captivity and the catharsis of personal freedom.

In her third book, Doyle (Love Warrior, 2016, etc.) begins with a life-changing event. “Four years ago,” she writes, “married to the father of my three children, I fell in love with a woman.” That woman, Abby Wambach, would become her wife. Emblematically arranged into three sections—“Caged,” “Keys,” “Freedom”—the narrative offers, among other elements, vignettes about the soulful author’s girlhood, when she was bulimic and felt like a zoo animal, a “caged girl made for wide-open skies.” She followed the path that seemed right and appropriate based on her Catholic upbringing and adolescent conditioning. After a downward spiral into “drinking, drugging, and purging,” Doyle found sobriety and the authentic self she’d been suppressing. Still, there was trouble: Straining an already troubled marriage was her husband’s infidelity, which eventually led to life-altering choices and the discovery of a love she’d never experienced before. Throughout the book, Doyle remains open and candid, whether she’s admitting to rigging a high school homecoming court election or denouncing the doting perfectionism of “cream cheese parenting,” which is about “giving your children the best of everything.” The author’s fears and concerns are often mirrored by real-world issues: gender roles and bias, white privilege, racism, and religion-fueled homophobia and hypocrisy. Some stories merely skim the surface of larger issues, but Doyle revisits them in later sections and digs deeper, using friends and familial references to personify their impact on her life, both past and present. Shorter pieces, some only a page in length, manage to effectively translate an emotional gut punch, as when Doyle’s therapist called her blooming extramarital lesbian love a “dangerous distraction.” Ultimately, the narrative is an in-depth look at a courageous woman eager to share the wealth of her experiences by embracing vulnerability and reclaiming her inner strength and resiliency.

Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-0125-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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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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