The inaugural book, on the remarkable half-decade that produced The Metamorphosis, The Trial, and “In the Penal Colony,” is...

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KAFKA

THE EARLY YEARS

The final installment in German scholar Stach’s magisterial three-part biography (Kafka: The Years of Insight, 2013, etc.), covering, in appropriately Kafkaesque nonsequential fashion, the writer’s childhood and youth.

A preface by Frisch, the superb translator of all three volumes, explains that the peculiar order was dictated by lack of access to the archives of Max Brod, close friend and literary executor, whose extensive diaries concerning the crucial years of Kafka’s formative literary efforts only became available recently. Stach makes astute use of this material to assess the complicated relationship between Kafka and the gregarious, ambitious Brod, who could never understand why his talented friend was so reluctant to publish and agonizingly slow to produce. Stach’s examination of the years before the men met at university in 1902 suggests a few reasons, most having to do with the pressure to achieve placed on young Franz by his overbearing father, Hermann. This analysis is sometimes swamped by the enormous amount of background on everything from anti-Semitism as a function of rising Czech nationalism to the nature of education in the late 19th-century; these and other highly relevant subjects could have been covered more cogently. However, the abundance of detail enables Stach to paint a vivid picture of the history and culture of Prague, Kafka’s hometown and lifelong residence. His portrait of the artist is intimately knowing: Kafka seizes our attention as a man neurotic yet deeply self-aware, frail yet devoted to swimming and hiking, always holding himself at a social remove yet a frequent visitor to Prague’s wine bars and coffee shops. Most importantly, the author makes palpable Kafka’s perfectionist striving for a prose of surreal clarity, “the axe for the frozen sea within us.”

The inaugural book, on the remarkable half-decade that produced The Metamorphosis, The Trial, and “In the Penal Colony,” is still the best, but this slightly overstuffed volume completes an indispensable work about a key figure in 20th-century modernism.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-691-15198-4

Page Count: 616

Publisher: Princeton Univ.

Review Posted Online: July 26, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2016

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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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An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

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BECOMING

The former first lady opens up about her early life, her journey to the White House, and the eight history-making years that followed.

It’s not surprising that Obama grew up a rambunctious kid with a stubborn streak and an “I’ll show you” attitude. After all, it takes a special kind of moxie to survive being the first African-American FLOTUS—and not only survive, but thrive. For eight years, we witnessed the adversity the first family had to face, and now we get to read what it was really like growing up in a working-class family on Chicago’s South Side and ending up at the world’s most famous address. As the author amply shows, her can-do attitude was daunted at times by racism, leaving her wondering if she was good enough. Nevertheless, she persisted, graduating from Chicago’s first magnet high school, Princeton, and Harvard Law School, and pursuing careers in law and the nonprofit world. With her characteristic candor and dry wit, she recounts the story of her fateful meeting with her future husband. Once they were officially a couple, her feelings for him turned into a “toppling blast of lust, gratitude, fulfillment, wonder.” But for someone with a “natural resistance to chaos,” being the wife of an ambitious politician was no small feat, and becoming a mother along the way added another layer of complexity. Throw a presidential campaign into the mix, and even the most assured woman could begin to crack under the pressure. Later, adjusting to life in the White House was a formidable challenge for the self-described “control freak”—not to mention the difficulty of sparing their daughters the ugly side of politics and preserving their privacy as much as possible. Through it all, Obama remained determined to serve with grace and help others through initiatives like the White House garden and her campaign to fight childhood obesity. And even though she deems herself “not a political person,” she shares frank thoughts about the 2016 election.

An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6313-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 30, 2018

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