Warmly ruminative and honestly observant. Witty, unforced humor rescues passages that might be boring in another writer’s...

READ REVIEW

UP

A MOTHER AND DAUGHTER'S PEAKBAGGING ADVENTURE

A mother and her young daughter bond through hiking.

When Herr and her husband bought a weekend home in the mountains, the author learned of the Four Thousand Footer Club, a group of “peakbaggers” who have climbed all 48 mountains in the New Hampshire Whites, whose summits rise above 4,000 feet. She proposed to her 5-year-old daughter Alex, a precocious and energetic nature lover, that they attempt the club together, and she immediately agreed. The author clearly states her parenting philosophy—“children should be met where they’re at, intellectually and otherwise”—and she presents her daughter as a fully formed person with her own capabilities and goals that drive her enterprise, rather than as a cute little body along for the ride and some comic relief. Like most nature-adventure memoirs, this one leverages ready-made life metaphors, which Herr captures effectively and sincerely, if a bit predictably. Herr divides the chapters into life lessons learned from experiences on the trail: “Know What You’re Getting Into,” “Ignore the Naysayers,” “Mistakes Have Serious Consequences,” etc. The latter chapter, about how Herr’s husband lost his legs to frostbite from being trapped for three days in subzero temperatures (see Alison Osius’ Second Ascent for the full story), lends additional weight to the story. After 15 months of peakbagging, Alex reached her final summit; by this time she was a minor celebrity in the local hiking community. Herr’s prose sufficiently captures the joy of being on the trail, though perhaps not forcefully enough to make converts out of city slickers. More than anything, the narrative serves as an apt landscape for a mother to reflect on her choices and on her struggle with how to explain life’s unfairness (sexism, cruelty of nature, distrust of strangers) to her daughter while continuing to nurture the innocent joys of fleeting childhood.

Warmly ruminative and honestly observant. Witty, unforced humor rescues passages that might be boring in another writer’s hands.

Pub Date: April 3, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-307-95207-3

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Broadway

Review Posted Online: March 13, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2012

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

An absorbing, wide-ranging story of humans’ relationship with the water.

WHY WE SWIM

A study of swimming as sport, survival method, basis for community, and route to physical and mental well-being.

For Bay Area writer Tsui (American Chinatown: A People's History of Five Neighborhoods, 2009), swimming is in her blood. As she recounts, her parents met in a Hong Kong swimming pool, and she often visited the beach as a child and competed on a swim team in high school. Midway through the engaging narrative, the author explains how she rejoined the team at age 40, just as her 6-year-old was signing up for the first time. Chronicling her interviews with scientists and swimmers alike, Tsui notes the many health benefits of swimming, some of which are mental. Swimmers often achieve the “flow” state and get their best ideas while in the water. Her travels took her from the California coast, where she dove for abalone and swam from Alcatraz back to San Francisco, to Tokyo, where she heard about the “samurai swimming” martial arts tradition. In Iceland, she met Guðlaugur Friðþórsson, a local celebrity who, in 1984, survived six hours in a winter sea after his fishing vessel capsized, earning him the nickname “the human seal.” Although humans are generally adapted to life on land, the author discovered that some have extra advantages in the water. The Bajau people of Indonesia, for instance, can do 10-minute free dives while hunting because their spleens are 50% larger than average. For most, though, it’s simply a matter of practice. Tsui discussed swimming with Dara Torres, who became the oldest Olympic swimmer at age 41, and swam with Kim Chambers, one of the few people to complete the daunting Oceans Seven marathon swim challenge. Drawing on personal experience, history, biology, and social science, the author conveys the appeal of “an unflinching giving-over to an element” and makes a convincing case for broader access to swimming education (372,000 people still drown annually).

An absorbing, wide-ranging story of humans’ relationship with the water.

Pub Date: April 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-61620-786-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: Jan. 5, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

A vivid sequel that strains credulity.

THE ESCAPE ARTIST

Fremont (After Long Silence, 1999) continues—and alters—her story of how memories of the Holocaust affected her family.

At the age of 44, the author learned that her father had disowned her, declaring her “predeceased”—or dead in his eyes—in his will. It was his final insult: Her parents had stopped speaking to her after she’d published After Long Silence, which exposed them as Jewish Holocaust survivors who had posed as Catholics in Europe and America in order to hide multilayered secrets. Here, Fremont delves further into her tortured family dynamics and shows how the rift developed. One thread centers on her life after her harrowing childhood: her education at Wellesley and Boston University, the loss of her virginity to a college boyfriend before accepting her lesbianism, her stint with the Peace Corps in Lesotho, and her decades of work as a lawyer in Boston. Another strand involves her fraught relationship with her sister, Lara, and how their difficulties relate to their father, a doctor embittered after years in the Siberian gulag; and their mother, deeply enmeshed with her own sister, Zosia, who had married an Italian count and stayed in Rome to raise a child. Fremont tells these stories with novelistic flair, ending with a surprising theory about why her parents hid their Judaism. Yet she often appears insensitive to the serious problems she says Lara once faced, including suicidal depression. “The whole point of suicide, I thought, was to succeed at it,” she writes. “My sister’s completion rate was pathetic.” Key facts also differ from those in her earlier work. After Long Silence says, for example, that the author grew up “in a small city in the Midwest” while she writes here that she grew up in “upstate New York,” changes Fremont says she made for “consistency” in the new book but that muddy its narrative waters. The discrepancies may not bother readers seeking psychological insights rather than factual accuracy, but others will wonder if this book should have been labeled a fictionalized autobiography rather than a memoir.

A vivid sequel that strains credulity.

Pub Date: Feb. 11, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-982113-60-5

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Oct. 21, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet
more