A rather dull memoir from a gifted writer.

A young man heads for the hills to experience solitude.

Cognetti follows up his international bestselling novel, The Eight Mountains (2018), with this amiable and pleasant but lackluster memoir. At the age of 30, writes the author, he was “drained, disoriented, and disillusioned,” and he yearned to “recover an old and deep-seated [self] I felt that I had lost.” Inspired by Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild and Thoreau—“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately...”—Cognetti set off for the Alps in search of his lost, “wild” boy-ness. However, readers take note: There will be no exciting near-death experiences here, just reflective thoughts. The author rented a small hut in the lower Alps, some 6,000 feet above sea level in the Valle d’Aosta. He tells his story chronologically, from winter, the “season of sleep,” to the “solitude and observation” of spring, to summer, the “season of friendship and adventure,” to autumn, the “season of writing.” After settling, Cognetti began to explore, but the landscape felt “artificial.” There’s “no such thing as wilderness in the Alps, only a long history of human presence that is experiencing today an era of abandonment.” After dealing with some mid-May snow, the author encountered his first guest, his landlord, Remigio. As the snow melted, Cognetti chopped wood and planted a vegetable garden. He observed the wildlife around him, including eagles, hares, marmots, chamois, and roe deer. When the shepherds returned to their pastures with cows, he made new friends. Eventually, he realized he “wasn’t cut out to be a hermit.” We read about his walks, preparing meals, enjoying wine; and still, “I had not learned how to be alone.” In autumn, he began writing in his notebook and hid some notes “in broken rocks, in the split bark of trees, so that my words would still be there after I’d gone.”

A rather dull memoir from a gifted writer.

Pub Date: July 2, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5011-9671-3

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Washington Square Press/Atria

Review Posted Online: April 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 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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