With limpid prose, Cohen delivers a searching and profoundly moving memoir.

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THE GIRL FROM HUMAN STREET

GHOSTS OF MEMORY IN A JEWISH FAMILY

In an effort to understand the modern Jewish experience, distinguished New York Times columnist Cohen (Soldiers and Slaves: American POWs Trapped by the Nazis' Final Gamble, 2005, etc.) examines his family history of displacement, despair and resilience.

The author has always prided himself on confronting the truth in his writing, but he knew that his work allowed him to escape the more difficult task of articulating a deeper personal truth. In this honest and lucid book, the British-born Cohen tells how his Lithuanian Jewish ancestors came to South Africa. Tolerated by white South Africans because they were also white-skinned, the author’s relatives made prosperous lives as business people while avoiding the fate of millions of other Jews in Nazi Europe. Despite their successes, however, members of both sides of his family were plagued by mental illness. The genes that caused it “formed an unbroken chain with the past,” which many of them tried to ignore. Cohen focuses in particular on the tragic story of his mother, June. Gifted and beautiful, she was also bipolar. When she and her family relocated to London, her symptoms surfaced and remained with her for the rest of her life. Cohen links June’s unraveling with her sense of being a stranger in a strange land. Like one of his mother’s relatives who ended up in Israel and eventually committed suicide, “[June] was a transplant who did not take.” All too aware of how many South African Jews turned a blind eye to the problem of apartheid in South Africa, Cohen also examines Israel’s evolution into a colonial nation that oppresses Arab minorities. Millennia of persecution and eternal exile have made a Jewish homeland a necessity, yet Israel will never fully succeed as a state until peaceful coexistence—of the kind white and black South Africans have slowly worked toward—becomes a reality.

With limpid prose, Cohen delivers a searching and profoundly moving memoir.

Pub Date: Jan. 13, 2015

ISBN: 978-0307594662

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Oct. 20, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2014

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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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