A disappointingly lackluster memoir focusing on the six boyhood years (1933—39) Gay spent in Nazi Berlin. All the intellectual and stylistic dimensions that make master historian and biographer Gay (author of the five-volume The Bourgeois Experience, etc.) such a superb academic writer—a somewhat detached, reflective, intellectually thorough and elegant approach’serve him less well when writing autobiographically. For example, even when describing the November 1938 national pogrom known as Kristallnacht, he gives short shrift to his own observations and reactions. Rather, he spends some time commenting upon psychohistorian Peter Loewenberg’s view of the event as a Nazi-organized “degradation ritual” against the Jews. Perhaps because he was a sometimes doted-upon, only child in an upper-middle-class, highly assimilated Jewish family whose members were able to leave before the “Final Solution,— Gay was partly insulated from some of the worst anti-Semitic and other horrors of the Third Reich. But there are some passages when his writing does have a certain crisp immediacy, as when he describes a family friend whom Gay encountered a month after the friend was released from a concentration camp: “he had visibly aged, looked deathly pale, seemed disoriented, I thought almost senile.— He also has some fine mini-profiles of both individuals who betrayed his family and a few who, with considerable courage, assisted them. In general, his writing comes more alive when he describes his experiences as an adolescent refugee, first in Havana, then in Denver. In large part, however, while Gay repeatedly describes Nazism as a “poison” from which his psyche has not to this day fully detoxified, he doesn’t quite succeed in having the reader really understand what the noxious, totalitarian, and ultimately murderous ambience of the Third Reich felt like day-to-day. Perhaps this is because, as Gay states in his acknowledgments, setting down this account proved “the least exhilarating assignment I have ever given myself or received from others.” (50 b&w illustrations, not seen)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-300-07670-3

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1999

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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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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...


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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