Schuman’s droll, self-deprecating, wild life (so far) will find particular appeal with readers who enjoy memoirs that don’t...

SCHADENFREUDE, A LOVE STORY

ME, THE GERMANS, AND 20 YEARS OF ATTEMPTED TRANSFORMATIONS, UNFORTUNATE MISCOMMUNICATIONS, AND HUMILIATING SITUATIONS THAT ONLY THEY HAVE WORDS FOR

The candid adventures of a plucky, German-obsessed American student.

Slate columnist Schuman’s youth in the 1990s plays out through the nine chapters of her hilarious memoir, her first book. The author titles each chapter with a relevant German word, reflecting a mood or event in her self-discovery and her vivid love for German culture, including an enduring, lifelong affinity for Franz Kafka—who, she notes, wasn’t German. During her senior year in high school, this self-proclaimed “nonpracticing half-Jew from Oregon” spent her time poring over SAT practice tests and nurturing a fawning obsession with Dylan, a handsome, “so brilliant and so pained” geek who found Schuman’s brainy awkwardness intellectually stimulating. But his college dreams and personal goals stagnated any progression in their relationship. The author plodded on at college as a German major and then fully immersed herself in the culture, grammar, and history of life abroad. A culture clash ensued immediately as her host family found Schuman’s new “postgrunge aesthetic” quite different from her introductory photograph. Surviving on her own with a newfound independence breathed new life into her travels, and she moved into a loft residence in Berlin as a vegetarian and “moderate smoker.” Highlights include a mishap involving the recovery of her lost passport, pithy social observations, and epiphanies about how hypocritical Germanic culture can be. “They will think nothing of telling you that you have gained weight,” she writes, “but in other situations, they have ironclad laws of politeness.” The author’s comparison of Prague’s post–Cold War metamorphosis to Gregor Samsa’s own transformation is creatively descriptive, as is her account of her anxiety at being perceived as having Imposter Syndrome while at graduate school in Southern California. Built on her inner angst and painstaking quest for self-discovery throughout her burgeoning adulthood, Schuman’s memoir is a comedic patchwork of quirky anecdotes written in smooth, sometimes-cocky prose, liberally sprinkled with free-flowing expletives and consistent sincerity.

Schuman’s droll, self-deprecating, wild life (so far) will find particular appeal with readers who enjoy memoirs that don’t take themselves too seriously.

Pub Date: Feb. 7, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-250-07757-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 7, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2016

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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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