A rich, complex life told in rich, complex prose.

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TOLSTOY

A RUSSIAN LIFE

Cultural historian and translator Bartlett (Chekhov: Scenes from a Life, 2004, etc.) unravels the ornate and complicated tapestry of the life of the great Russian writer.

Count Tolstoy (a title he later eschewed) lived more than several lives, and Bartlett explores them all with understanding and a sympathetic but also critical eye. Born into a privileged class, Leo Nikolayevich Tolstoy (1828–1910) did not distinguish himself early on and seemed determined to investigate all the sordid alternatives available to a young man of property—alcohol, gambling (he had to sell entire villages to pay his considerable debts), lassitude and lust. At university, he neglected the curriculum and pursued his own interests—he was smitten with Pushkin, Dickens, Trollope, Rousseau and, significantly, Diogenes). For some of his early years, Bartlett can offer only speculations (few records exist), but when he went off to war in the early 1850s, the narrative accelerates. Tolstoy was a fine soldier, though he later renounced violence of all sorts (he became a vegan, quit hunting and took up bicycling). While in the military, he continued writing, and the flow of words surged ever more thickly for the next half-century. Bartlett does not linger overlong on any of his most celebrated works, though she does point out that he used family members in War and Peace and employed an actual case of suicide under a train to inform Anna Karenina. The author is most attentive to the growing celebrity of Tolstoy—and the emergence of groups of devoted followers, especially when he began to embrace his own form of Christianity, dress like a peasant, advocate education for the masses and assail violence, the government and the Orthodox church. Bartlett also highlights the great difficulties faced by his wife and attends fully to his postmortem status.

A rich, complex life told in rich, complex prose.

Pub Date: Nov. 9, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-15-101438-5

Page Count: 544

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

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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