Lisicky built, and rebuilt and rebuilt, until it felt good to be in his skin. Famous Builder shows the same urge to grapple...

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FAMOUS BUILDER

In an offbeat memoir, Lisicky (Lawnboy, not reviewed) takes dense, obsessed bites from his past and deposits them at the feet of his readers for them to marvel over how he got from there to here.

While growing up in southern New Jersey during the 1960s, in a world of sprawling housing developments, Lisicky wants to be a great builder, like Bill Levitt: “I want those who drive through my communities to be socked in the head with the sheer beauty of all they see.” (Later, when he meets Levitt—or is this just a piece of creative nonfiction?—he says to the mogul, “You gave style to the masses,” and the builder responds: “The masses are asses.”) He’s aware of the stress under Levitt’s veneer, but Lisicky hopes to imbue his work with elegance and understated good taste. He: “All developers do is rip people off. I’m going to be a musician and a composer.” And he does, changing over from construction to liturgical composition, not that the housing developments haven’t left their mark. Through his teens and early 20s, he writes church music—his work is even published—and he discovers a gay sexuality. The sexuality survives, but not the future in music: it had felt right when the church was as much about hope as fear; but now, in its conservative Dark Ages, he asks how he could “ignore charges of colluding with the enemy” should he return to liturgical composition. There are riffs on neighbors, clothing, and college, each snapping the reader to attention after having been lost in one of Lisicky’s long, atmospheric tableaux of family—where the warmth of the reflections and steady pulse of humor suggest Lisicky wasn’t an unhappy boy, nor an unobservant one.

Lisicky built, and rebuilt and rebuilt, until it felt good to be in his skin. Famous Builder shows the same urge to grapple and illuminate.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2002

ISBN: 1-55597-369-8

Page Count: 200

Publisher: Graywolf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2002

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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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