An affecting memoir of circumstance, absence, and renewal.

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DREAMS AND SHADOWS

Yakimov (Ashes of Wars, 2011, etc.) remembers her childhood and adolescence in Cold War Bulgaria.

Yakimov begins her memoir with accounts of the bomber raids on Sofia during the dark days of the second world war, when her family and neighbors would crouch in the basement awaiting their unknown fates. From the death of Czar Boris III and the arrival of the Stalinists to her eventual escape through West Germany and on to Canada in the 1960s, Yakimov documents her youth in the impoverished People’s Republic of Bulgaria. She began keeping a diary in 1952; her father noted her dedication to it: “Is your diary a reflection of your life, or are you living for the sake of the diary?” The document (some of it reprinted here) serves as the departure point for the memoir: a memory-jogger and primary source that recorded her preoccupations and conjectures regarding her family, education, and future. The Yakimov of the present, with the benefit of perspective and the pull of nostalgia, relates the quirks of her friends and relations, anecdotes and experiences proving that, regardless of circumstance, people behave like people—humorously, aspirationally, sometimes selflessly. The prose is a pleasure to read: Yakimov has a great sense of image and narrative that fixes the reader in her gritty world. Additionally, she’s a tremendous writer of the human spirit. Her empathy for individuals is great even as her criticism of institutions is barbed. A sense of loss (for both the Bulgaria of her parents’ youth and the Bulgaria of her own) haunts the prose like smoke that won’t disappear. While the account of conditions under the communists is fascinating, the heart of the text lies in the minutiae of Yakimov’s household: her stoic father, her strong-willed mother, her family’s lore and hardship. The memoir accomplishes the admirable task of humanizing people who lived under an increasingly dehumanizing system. Readers will be thankful so much has been remembered and recorded yet conscious of how much more has been lost.

An affecting memoir of circumstance, absence, and renewal.

Pub Date: July 18, 2006

ISBN: 978-0595390717

Page Count: 248

Publisher: iUniverse

Review Posted Online: March 10, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2015

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Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

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UNTAMED

More life reflections from the bestselling author on themes of societal captivity and the catharsis of personal freedom.

In her third book, Doyle (Love Warrior, 2016, etc.) begins with a life-changing event. “Four years ago,” she writes, “married to the father of my three children, I fell in love with a woman.” That woman, Abby Wambach, would become her wife. Emblematically arranged into three sections—“Caged,” “Keys,” “Freedom”—the narrative offers, among other elements, vignettes about the soulful author’s girlhood, when she was bulimic and felt like a zoo animal, a “caged girl made for wide-open skies.” She followed the path that seemed right and appropriate based on her Catholic upbringing and adolescent conditioning. After a downward spiral into “drinking, drugging, and purging,” Doyle found sobriety and the authentic self she’d been suppressing. Still, there was trouble: Straining an already troubled marriage was her husband’s infidelity, which eventually led to life-altering choices and the discovery of a love she’d never experienced before. Throughout the book, Doyle remains open and candid, whether she’s admitting to rigging a high school homecoming court election or denouncing the doting perfectionism of “cream cheese parenting,” which is about “giving your children the best of everything.” The author’s fears and concerns are often mirrored by real-world issues: gender roles and bias, white privilege, racism, and religion-fueled homophobia and hypocrisy. Some stories merely skim the surface of larger issues, but Doyle revisits them in later sections and digs deeper, using friends and familial references to personify their impact on her life, both past and present. Shorter pieces, some only a page in length, manage to effectively translate an emotional gut punch, as when Doyle’s therapist called her blooming extramarital lesbian love a “dangerous distraction.” Ultimately, the narrative is an in-depth look at a courageous woman eager to share the wealth of her experiences by embracing vulnerability and reclaiming her inner strength and resiliency.

Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-0125-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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