SIR VIDIA'S SHADOW

A FRIENDSHIP ACROSS FIVE CONTINENTS

The detailed story of a long, top-heavy friendship that took a sudden nosedive, from novelist and travel writer Theroux (Kowloon Tong, 1997, etc.). They met in Africa 30 years ago: Theroux was 23, a university lecturer and aspiring writer; V.S. Naipaul (Vidia) was only 34 and already a respected writer. Theroux was ready to please: “He was stimulating and tiring to be with, like a brilliant demanding child—needy, exhausting, funny, often making a po-faced joke just to please me, and who was I?” What is clearly a teacher-student relationship deepens into an ill-balanced if mutually advantageous friendship. Theroux needed encouragement to build confidence as a writer. Naipaul needed someone to buff is ego, nurse his ills, pay the lunch bill. This Theroux did, bearing Naipaul’s dismissive manner, his mockery and imperiousness. Theroux put up with all this because he was awed by Naipaul’s talent, because “his talk was unexpected and original. He was contrary and he was often right.” And perhaps Theroux was smitten, confused; he might like to believe that “I could say what I wanted to him,” but really “you got nowhere arguing with Vidia. You needed to listen, to indulge him, not to debate every illogical point.” One day, apparently out of the blue, Naipaul writes Theroux off. Baffled and hurt, Theroux is nevertheless now a grown-up who has felt pain before. He vents a little (Naipaul had “stopped trying to please the reader. He lost his humor, he blunted his descriptive gift”), though not peevishly. It would be overmuch to say Theroux sighed with relief at the end; yet, undeniably, there is a sense of liberation. This friendship is no easy subject for portraiture—oblique, intuitive, unspoken, irrational as it often is. Theroux does his best to explicate, filling this memoir with telling incidents, blending passion with dispassion, writing with elegance. As for Naipaul: “Never give anyone a second chance.”

Pub Date: Oct. 15, 1998

ISBN: 0-395-90728-4

Page Count: 358

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1998

NIGHT

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

THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS

FROM MEAN STREETS TO WALL STREET

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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