A warmly candid memoir of navigating family, aging, and death.



A Canadian writer’s debut memoir about how she learned to cope with the houseful of mementos and memories her parents left after their deaths.

As the eldest of four children and the only daughter, Johnson became the main caretaker for her aging parents. She and her siblings watched over a period of 20 years as Alzheimer’s claimed their reserved British father and old age took their feisty American mother. Yet after her mother died, Johnson did not feel the relief she had expected. Instead she found herself “searching for evidence” of her mother and father. The author moved into her parents’ house to sort through their belongings. Almost immediately, she felt the deep emotional toll of her task of separating the “trash from the treasure.” Going through the possessions that had accumulated over combined lifetimes of “more than 180 years,” she realized the “layers of misunderstandings” that existed between herself and, in particular, her mother. Johnson gradually began tracing the trajectory of her parents’ lives. Her free-spirited mother had been a war bride who followed her husband to England, Singapore, and Canada. Growing up, she remembered how her order-loving, traditional father had stifled her mother’s artistic ambitions and possibly fueled the alcoholism for which he would make her feel guilty. Personal letters revealed that their difficult though long-lived union had been riven from the start by separation and opposing temperaments. Johnson learned that her parents’ marriage had ultimately been “a hard-fought achievement” both had consciously chosen. But perhaps even more significantly, she understood that the “intrusive, demanding, and possessive” person she knew as her mother was really a woman who wanted a closeness with her daughter that she had not shared with her own mother. Generous and heartfelt, Johnson’s book offers an intimate look at family and especially mother-daughter connections. It is an uplifting affirmation of human relationships and the cycle of life itself.

A warmly candid memoir of navigating family, aging, and death.

Pub Date: July 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-399-18409-3

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: April 30, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2016

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.


The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

Did you like this book?

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

Did you like this book?