An insightful argument occasionally marred by somewhat tangential and glib analysis.

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BECOMING DICKENS

THE INVENTION OF A NOVELIST

A literary biography of Charles Dickens focused on his life and work during the 1830s.

Douglas-Fairhurst (English/Magdalen Coll., Oxford; Victorian Afterlives: The Shaping of Influence in Nineteenth-Century Literature, 2002) writes that reviewers of the great author’s early work in the Monthly Magazine found his stories to be “a choice bit of humour, somewhat exaggerated” and “clever,” which was a backhanded compliment from the British press. These comments apply to Becoming Dickens as well. Douglas-Fairhurst frequently makes clever connections of dubious significance to his overall argument. In his otherwise useful examination of “A Dinner at Poplar Walk,” Dickens’ first published story, he pauses on the line “an appalling creaking of boots,” which he admits “has nothing to do with the main thrust of the story.” But he insists the word “boots” is important: “The notion that somebody’s personality resides in his boots is closely connected to Dickens’s interest in theater, where an actor trying to establish a character might decide to work from the bottom up but not get much further than choosing the right kind of footwear.” This kind of close reading permeates the book, often slowing the narrative momentum, but the author’s central argument, about the ways in which events in Dickens’ life shaped his fiction, is a worthy one. While writing later in life about a near-brush with acting, Dickens remarked, “See how near I may have been to another sort of life.” Douglas-Fairhurst shows demonstrates how the idea that a person could have just as easily ended up a clerk or a thief as a writer preoccupied Dickens and found its way into his fiction. The biographical concerns connect strongly and effectively to the literary material.

An insightful argument occasionally marred by somewhat tangential and glib analysis.

Pub Date: Oct. 17, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-674-05003-7

Page Count: 360

Publisher: Belknap/Harvard Univ.

Review Posted Online: July 20, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2011

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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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