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Why does Oscar Levant, memorable mostly for his devastating put-downs, deserve a biography at all, let alone one this long? Kashner and Schoenberger answer that question convincingly. This husband-and-wife team of poets (both teach writing at the College of William and Mary) make an auspicious nonfiction debut with this biography. At one time Levant was the highest-paid concert artist in America, and one of the most popular. But by the time of his death he was remembered mainly as a deeply troubled yet very witty man, best known for a series of terrifyingly frank appearances on the Jack Paar Show in which he discussed his barbiturate addiction and nervous breakdowns with a candor unheard of at the time. In fact, as this biography makes clear, Levant was, in spite of an almost hallucinatory catalogue of neurotic compulsions and phobias, a composer of promise, a talented pianist with a wide range of musical strengths (although most widely remembered for his interpretations of Gershwin, his close friend), and a man of uncommon intelligence and erudition. The son of Russian-Jewish immigrants who raised him to love music, Levant was an autodidact who entered the most elevated literary and musical circles of New York and Hollywood from the Jazz Age into the Eisenhower years before mental illness and drugs wrecked his health, his marriage, and his life. The book retells this story in great detail, but almost never drags. There are several minor errors in passages of historical background (Babe Ruth made his debut in the Yankee outfield in 1920, not in 1922). A genuinely thoughtful and entertaining biography that should go far in rebuilding Levant's reputation as a serious musician.

Pub Date: May 25, 1994

ISBN: 0-679-40489-9

Page Count: 528

Publisher: Villard

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1994

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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

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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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