Grating but ultimately humane.

RAISING GIRLS IN BOHEMIA

MEDITATIONS OF AN AMERICAN FATHER: A MEMOIR IN ESSAYS

A distinguished writer and English professor chronicles his experiences living and loving between American and Czech cultures.

When Katrovas (Scorpio Rising: Selected Poems, 2011, etc.) went to Czechoslovakia in 1989, he had no idea that from that moment forward, he would become a divided man. Married, he began an affair with a Czech woman and eventually wed her. In the end, he would stay with his second wife “only because [he] had children with her.” Yet his love for their three daughters was and remains “fierce and direct.” Their births gave him insight into his own odd childhood, during which he lived first on the run or on welfare with parents and then abroad in Japan with his uncle’s family. Like their father, the girls lived a life of in-between, though it was much more privileged than his own economically disadvantaged one. As they grew up and he grew into his role of father, his attitudes toward women changed. Females and female sexuality were no longer just the source of “sweet and earthly succor.” A barely functional speaker of Czech, Katrovas admits himself to be a “grudging observer” of the Czech society, in part due to the fact that its language and culture loom as ever present threats to intimacy with his daughters. At the same time, Czech society has allowed him to understand his past as well as his own culture from a unique perspective. Females in Prague, for example, can walk the streets at night in safety; yet in the American land of liberty, they cannot. It is only in the realm of rhetoric that women can express some measure of freedom. At times brutally provocative, Katrovas’ essays, which also grapple more generally with otherness, faith and the role of art in society, are nothing if not stimulating.

Grating but ultimately humane.

Pub Date: Oct. 14, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-941110-06-5

Page Count: 232

Publisher: Three Rooms Press

Review Posted Online: June 21, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2014

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A standout immigrant coming-of-age story.

THE DISTANCE BETWEEN US

A MEMOIR

In her first nonfiction book, novelist Grande (Dancing with Butterflies, 2009, etc.) delves into her family’s cycle of separation and reunification.

Raised in poverty so severe that spaghetti reminded her of the tapeworms endemic to children in her Mexican hometown, the author is her family’s only college graduate and writer, whose honors include an American Book Award and International Latino Book Award. Though she was too young to remember her father when he entered the United States illegally seeking money to improve life for his family, she idolized him from afar. However, she also blamed him for taking away her mother after he sent for her when the author was not yet 5 years old. Though she emulated her sister, she ultimately answered to herself, and both siblings constantly sought affirmation of their parents’ love, whether they were present or not. When one caused disappointment, the siblings focused their hopes on the other. These contradictions prove to be the narrator’s hallmarks, as she consistently displays a fierce willingness to ask tough questions, accept startling answers, and candidly render emotional and physical violence. Even as a girl, Grande understood the redemptive power of language to define—in the U.S., her name’s literal translation, “big queen,” led to ridicule from other children—and to complicate. In spelling class, when a teacher used the sentence “my mamá loves me” (mi mamá me ama), Grande decided to “rearrange the words so that they formed a question: ¿Me ama mi mamá? Does my mama love me?”

A standout immigrant coming-of-age story.

Pub Date: Aug. 28, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4516-6177-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: June 12, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2012

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Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

TOMBSTONE

THE EARP BROTHERS, DOC HOLLIDAY, AND THE VENDETTA RIDE FROM HELL

Rootin’-tootin’ history of the dry-gulchers, horn-swogglers, and outright killers who populated the Wild West’s wildest city in the late 19th century.

The stories of Wyatt Earp and company, the shootout at the O.K. Corral, and Geronimo and the Apache Wars are all well known. Clavin, who has written books on Dodge City and Wild Bill Hickok, delivers a solid narrative that usefully links significant events—making allies of white enemies, for instance, in facing down the Apache threat, rustling from Mexico, and other ethnically charged circumstances. The author is a touch revisionist, in the modern fashion, in noting that the Earps and Clantons weren’t as bloodthirsty as popular culture has made them out to be. For example, Wyatt and Bat Masterson “took the ‘peace’ in peace officer literally and knew that the way to tame the notorious town was not to outkill the bad guys but to intimidate them, sometimes with the help of a gun barrel to the skull.” Indeed, while some of the Clantons and some of the Earps died violently, most—Wyatt, Bat, Doc Holliday—died of cancer and other ailments, if only a few of old age. Clavin complicates the story by reminding readers that the Earps weren’t really the law in Tombstone and sometimes fell on the other side of the line and that the ordinary citizens of Tombstone and other famed Western venues valued order and peace and weren’t particularly keen on gunfighters and their mischief. Still, updating the old notion that the Earp myth is the American Iliad, the author is at his best when he delineates those fraught spasms of violence. “It is never a good sign for law-abiding citizens,” he writes at one high point, “to see Johnny Ringo rush into town, both him and his horse all in a lather.” Indeed not, even if Ringo wound up killing himself and law-abiding Tombstone faded into obscurity when the silver played out.

Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-21458-4

Page Count: 400

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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