THE MURDER OF HELEN JEWETT

THE LIFE AND DEATH OF A PROSTITUTE IN NINETEENTH-CENTURY NEW YORK

An admirable if not always compelling exploration of a once-sensational murder and trial that recall our recent obsession with the Simpson case. Cohen (History/Univ. of Calif., Santa Barbara) begins with the discovery of the body of 23-year-old Jewett in a New York brothel fire set to reduce her hatcheted remains to rubble. Cohen’s massive research reveals that the woman known as Helen Jewett was a onetime Maine servant girl named Dorcas Doyen, placed from youth in the service of a prominent judge’s family. By age 19, Dorcas had left Maine and was an experienced “girl on the town,” part of a bustling, “not illegal” trade engaging, by one —alarmist estimate,— as many as one in seven women in 1830s New York. Between assignations, Jewett romanced partners through letters, some of which (quoted in the book’s most engaging chapter) were written to her killer. Richard Robinson, an innocent-looking New York clerk of good breeding who confided to his diary his irresistibility to women and maniacal leanings, was that partner. For several months they romanced; his infidelity ended the affair. Shortly afterward, Jewett was killed. Police retrieved evidence and arrested Robinson. But during the trial, Robinson’s top-flight lawyers savaged Jewett’s character, impugned prosecution witnesses, established a tight-enough alibi, and posited a theory of the “true” killer. Robinson was acquitted, years of press uproar ensued over the travesty of “the great unhung,” and Robinson’s lawyer gained “imperishable celebrity and never-dying fame.” Would that the book were as exciting as the story. But it isn—t, partly because of Cohen’s academic style, in which context impedes narrative, and partly because the author’s clear, well-organized prose informs but doesn—t transport. Enlivened by epistolary amours and detective-like research revelations, yet still a sluggish rendition of a resonant tale. (16 pages b&w photos, not seen)

Pub Date: Aug. 11, 1998

ISBN: 0-679-41291-3

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1998

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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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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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