HAND TO MOUTH

A CHRONICLE OF EARLY FAILURE

Artistic failure, financial woes, and broken love are the subjects of Auster's wide-ranging philosophical memoir, a candid assessment of the demands and rewards of art, work, and money. Auster's (Mr. Vertigo, 1994; Leviathan, 1992; etc.) success provides an ironic subtext to this catalog of misery: The author of 14 books of fiction, poetry, essays, screenplays, and translations laughs last, since this putative chronicle of failure includes work that originally lacked an audience. That material, presented in three appendixes, includes a trio of one-act plays (one of which, Laurel and Hardy Go to Heaven, isn't bad); Action Baseball, a nifty game complete with cut-out playing cards that failed as a desperate get-rich-quick scheme; and Squeeze Play, a thinking man's mystery featuring a wise-cracking Ivy League gumshoe. All provide interesting footnotes to Auster's development as a novelist. The main attraction, though, is the long title essay, a bare-knuckles grapple with the choices he made during a rocky literary apprenticeship. The central problem, Auster writes, "was that I had no interest in leading a double life" like writers who "earn good money at legitimate professions" and write in their spare time. He took the old-fashioned approach, eschewing MFA programs (both as a student and teacher) to earn his chops in the school of hard knocks. He shipped out with the merchant marine, explored France and Ireland, won a few minor grants. But despite help from friends like Mary McCarthy (whose influence led to a memorable freelance gig translating a new Vietnamese constitution in 1973), Auster spent years of penury doing "literary hackwork" while his fiction went nowhere and his marriage foundered. Even an attempt to sell out ended with his publisher kaput and a detective novel languishing in a warehouse. Risk and failure—common themes in Auster's work—gain real-life urgency as autobiography. Required, inspiring reading for Auster-holics and aspiring writers.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1997

ISBN: 0-8050-5406-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1997

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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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