Her exquisite novels remain the major source of fascination with Jane Austen.

For Austen obsessives, this latest study offers a few flashes of revelation amid long stretches of minutiae.

Byrne (Mad World: Evelyn Waugh and the Secrets of Brideshead, 2010, etc.) describes her provocatively titled book as “something different and more experimental.” The experiment would seem to be the framing of the chapters. Rather than proceeding with a conventional, chronological biography, Byrne structures her narrative around small objects and incidents—totems that expand into larger issues concerning Austen’s experiences, attitudes and her beliefs. The result might be termed a biography of her novels (heavier on Mansfield Park than one might expect, lighter on Pride and Prejudice), showing how their development proceeded from the known facts of Austen’s life, some of which run counter to common perception. She was more worldly than many might suspect, rather than someone bound by the British countryside and her own imagination. Byrne reveals that the author was “a very well-travelled woman,” that she “very much enjoyed shopping,” that “Jane Austen and her family loved charades, puzzles, conundrums and riddles,” and that she was “a dedicated follower of fashion.” Perhaps the most illuminating area is in the never-married (but once-engaged) author’s attitude toward having a family, of how she enjoyed the company of children without idealizing or sentimentalizing them, but “seems to have had a phobia of childbirth.” Ultimately, all of this accumulation of detail doesn’t bring readers much closer to a woman the author admits was “a very private person” and “the most elusive of all writers with the exception of Shakespeare.”

Her exquisite novels remain the major source of fascination with Jane Austen.

Pub Date: Jan. 29, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-06-199909-3

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Dec. 15, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2013


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



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

Close Quickview