NAMEDROPPING

MOSTLY LITERARY MEMOIRS

An erratic, often overreaching collection of quickie biographical recollections of great, not so great, and utterly unknown litterateurs and artistes. Like most of the men and women profiled here, Elman (Tar Beach, 1991, etc.) labored in semiobscurity for much of his life. His 25-plus books (many now out of print) were enough to free him from freelancing and get him onto the college creative writing circuit but have not secured him anything approaching literary renown. As he recounts in one of the more amusing sketches, he’s often confused with the great literary biographer of Joyce and Wilde, Richard Ellmann. When the two men met at a party, Ellmann gleefully took him around, saying, “We—re Richard Elmans.” Some of the portraits here, especially those of longstanding acquaintances such as Isaac Bashevis Singer, Tillie Olsen, and Yvor Winters, are right on target. Elman’s impressions are sharp,, strongly drawn, and quite revealing. However, with most of the notable names featured here (Aldous Huxley, W.H. Auden, Allen Ginsberg) he had only a passing acquaintance, an interview, a meeting at a conference or party; so though he occasionally musters a noteworthy insight, it’s built on tenuous foundations. In addition, the majority of the profiles here are of obscure people: fringe literary figures or tenure-track teachers of creative writing. Since he doesn—t have the literary gifts to redeem them from their obscurity, Elman would have done well to drop their names completely from this collection. Falling prey to the occupational hazard of memoirists, narcissism, he also tends to see others too much in terms of himself.

Pub Date: July 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-7914-3879-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 1998

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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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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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