ANTHONY BURGESS

A BIOGRAPHY

Trenchant and dogged, expunging the biographer of a 20-year anxiety of influence.

Loquacious portraitist Lewis (The Real Life of Laurence Olivier, 1997, etc.) leaves no stone unturned in his obsessive and hardly sympathetic life of the tortured author of A Clockwork Orange.

Born in 1917 to a working-class Catholic family in northeast Manchester, John Wilson (his name until his first novel, Time for a Tiger, was published in 1956) lost his sister and mother early to the flu epidemic and grew into an unfeeling, massively egotistical bookworm. His early years as an English teacher married to an unstoppable Welsh dipsomaniac ended with his transformation into Anthony Burgess, pompous polymath of mock scholarship. His thousand-word-a-day writing quota ensued from the famously inaccurate 1959 diagnosis of an inoperable brain tumor; he churned out four novels during the one year he thought he had left and was preoccupied thereafter with afflictions of the body. Later remarried to an Italian countess, Burgess composed more than 30 titles before his death in 1993, ranging from early “jungle novels” about his travels and on to potboilers and copious literary criticism (Joyce, Hemingway, D.H. Lawrence, and Shakespeare), as well as Broadway adaptations, screenplays (Franco Zeffirelli’s Jesus of Nazareth), and translations. His lurid study of mechanized violence didn't take off until Stanley Kubrick’s chilling film version in 1971, and Lewis makes some mischievous revelations about A Clockwork Orange: Burgess lifted the idea from a French translation he had done years before, and the novel supposedly encrypts covert operations the author was allegedly engaged in with Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Aiming to situate Burgess in the grand scheme of English-language literary history, Lewis does so magisterially, especially in the chatty, page-long footnotes comparing him to heavyweight contemporaries Graham Greene, Kingsley Amis, and Iris Murdoch, among others. Lewis can forgive his subject for preposterous subterfuges, but can’t rid himself of “discomfiture” over Burgess's extreme writerly froideur.

Trenchant and dogged, expunging the biographer of a 20-year anxiety of influence.

Pub Date: March 19, 2004

ISBN: 0-312-32251-8

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Dunne/St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2003

NIGHT

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

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

THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS

FROM MEAN STREETS TO WALL STREET

Well-told and admonitory.

Young-rags-to-mature-riches memoir by broker and motivational speaker Gardner.

Born and raised in the Milwaukee ghetto, the author pulled himself up from considerable disadvantage. He was fatherless, and his adored mother wasn’t always around; once, as a child, he spied her at a family funeral accompanied by a prison guard. When beautiful, evanescent Moms was there, Chris also had to deal with Freddie “I ain’t your goddamn daddy!” Triplett, one of the meanest stepfathers in recent literature. Chris did “the dozens” with the homies, boosted a bit and in the course of youthful adventure was raped. His heroes were Miles Davis, James Brown and Muhammad Ali. Meanwhile, at the behest of Moms, he developed a fondness for reading. He joined the Navy and became a medic (preparing badass Marines for proctology), and a proficient lab technician. Moving up in San Francisco, married and then divorced, he sold medical supplies. He was recruited as a trainee at Dean Witter just around the time he became a homeless single father. All his belongings in a shopping cart, Gardner sometimes slept with his young son at the office (apparently undiscovered by the night cleaning crew). The two also frequently bedded down in a public restroom. After Gardner’s talents were finally appreciated by the firm of Bear Stearns, his American Dream became real. He got the cool duds, hot car and fine ladies so coveted from afar back in the day. He even had a meeting with Nelson Mandela. Through it all, he remained a prideful parent. His own no-daddy blues are gone now.

Well-told and admonitory.

Pub Date: June 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-06-074486-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2006

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