A poignant and humane memoir.

A journalist’s account of how her attempts to learn about her grandfather’s lost “true love” turned into a quest to understand the place of the Holocaust in her life and the lives of other young Jews.

Former New Republic staffer Wildman grew up surrounded by stories about her grandfather Karl’s charmed existence. He had been one of the lucky Jews able to escape Vienna with both his life and professional credentials intact not long after Hitler annexed Austria in 1938. But when the author found photos of an unknown woman in a family album, her grandmother revealed that Karl had once been profoundly in love with a girl named Valy, whom he’d reluctantly had to leave behind. Many years later, after stumbling across letters that her grandmother had somehow overlooked in her destructive mission to preserve the myth of Karl’s “spotless escape,” Wildman began to put together the story behind Karl and Valy’s relationship. Hungry for details, she traveled to Vienna and, later, Germany and the Czech Republic, where she researched Valy’s life and visited the places that bore her imprint. The author concluded that both Karl and his lover had borne burdens of sorrow, guilt and loneliness far greater than anyone had known. At the same time, she also uncovered a worldwide network of people outside her family whose lives had been touched by not only Valy and Karl, but by Nazi terrorism. Wildman realized that history had been served to her, and the members of her generation, in ways that were far too “sanitized” and “clean.” This profound book derives its power not so much from the love story at its heart, but from the historical urgency with which Wildman infuses it. The author makes clear that only by engaging with inherited past trauma deeply and fully can individuals and communities begin the long and difficult process of looking for ways to regain wholeness.

A poignant and humane memoir.

Pub Date: Oct. 30, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-59463-155-9

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Aug. 17, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2014


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



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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