WHILE THE LOCUST SLEPT

A MEMOIR

A perfectly pitched memoir.

A septuagenarian member of the Fond du Lac Band of Ojibwa tells a harrowing tale of mistreatment and racial prejudice as he movingly recalls his years as a ward of the state and an indentured laborer in Minnesota during the 1930s.

Razor’s memories of working on a farm complement his recollections of the St. Paul orphanage in which the state placed him after he was abandoned by his alcoholic father when only ten months old. (His mother, who suffered from depression, had been placed in an asylum.) The orphanage was a Dickensian institution bent on teaching by punishment rather than reward. With the exceptions of a kindly doctor and a young assistant, the staff was sadistic, ill-educated, and unsympathetic. Razor recalls how when he was seven years old, the husband of one matron, holding him by an arm and leg, whirled him around until he became unconscious and had to be hospitalized. Another employee beat him savagely with a broomstick, calling him a “deceitful Injun.” One night while he was in bed, a matron in an insane rage attacked him with a hammer, causing injuries so severe that he was in hospital for more than a month. In early adolescence he ran away with two friends, but they were eventually caught, starving and unwashed, and brought back. Though Razor enjoyed studying and was an honor student, at 15 he was put to work on a farm. He was supposed to be paid for his labor and sent to school, but he never saw any wages, and his education came second to the needs of the farmer, who beat Peter so brutally that he ran away. Officials finally recognized the boy’s plight and found him a good home. Though he exposes the reality of a system that essentially legalized child abuse, Razor somehow manages to control his justifiable anger.

A perfectly pitched memoir.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-87351-401-7

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Minnesota Historical Society Press

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2001

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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