An impressively edited volume commemorates a canonical literary figure.

THE SELECTED LETTERS OF RALPH ELLISON

A rich collection reveals a writer’s aspirations and frustrations.

Drawing primarily on an extensive trove of correspondence at the Library of Congress, Callahan (Emeritus, Humanities/Lewis and Clark Coll. In the African American Grain: Call and Response in 20th Century Black Fiction, 2008, etc.), Ellison’s literary executor, and Conner (English/Washington and Lee Univ.; editor: The Poetry of James Joyce Reconsidered, 2012, etc.) have created a model of scholarship in their volume of letters by acclaimed African American writer Ralph Ellison (1913-1994), author of the 1953 National Book Award winner, Invisible Man. Organized by decade beginning in the 1930s, the letters are contextualized by a comprehensive general introduction, a focused introduction to each chapter, and informative footnotes where needed; a detailed chronology appends the volume. Ellison’s long, candid letters trace his transformation from a “savvy and street-smart” kid born and raised in Oklahoma to a sophisticated world traveler, award-winning author, college professor, and literary celebrity. As he worked on essays, stories, and his first novel, Ellison revealed his ambition to change public consciousness. To Gotham Book Mart owner Frances Steloff, he cited Bernard Shaw’s plays, which he read as a teenager, as a decisive influence, especially the prefaces, which illuminated “the relationship between ideas, art, and politics.” “Frankly, we are angry,” he wrote to a friend in 1939, but the prominence of figures such as Richard Wright and Langston Hughes was proof that African American authors “have overcome the cultural and intellectual isolation” that, until recently, they experienced. Ellison’s cultural landscape expanded vastly when he was in residence at the American Academy in Rome in 1955: “Ruins, architecture, art, palaces, churches and graveyards, my head is whirling with it all.” Surely, he said, “human aspiration found its most magnificent expression here.” Among Ellison’s many literary correspondents was Saul Bellow, with whom he felt aesthetic camaraderie. Together, he wrote in 1959, “we’re moving toward an emancipation of our fiction from the clichés of recent styles and limitations of conception.”

An impressively edited volume commemorates a canonical literary figure.

Pub Date: Dec. 3, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9852-8

Page Count: 1004

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 10, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2019

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

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

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

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

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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