MEMORY FIELDS

By authority of his excellent prose, discomfiting honesty, risky form, and shattering fidelity to the traps of remembering the nearly unbearable, Breznitz has produced a Holocaust memoir that stands with the best of them. An academic psychologist (The New School and the Univ. of Haifa), Breznitz brings more than a hint of velleity to his account that will remind some readers, with cause, of Primo Levi. But unlike Levi, Breznitz was not himself at Auschwitz. His Czech parents were, though—and with moving foresight they had arranged to convert to Catholicism so their daughter and son might live out the war sheltered in a convent orphanage. Life in the orphanage is grim; Breznitz is bullied and, in turn, bullies; the nuns know he is Jewish but he remains in mortal terror of taking off his underwear in case one of his fellow ``orphans'' might discover the fact and give him away. The ambiguity of survival is made indelible by two incidents in particular: Breznitz's knack for remembering whole Latin prayers is noticed by the nuns and the local prelate, who link it with the legend prophesying a future Pope arising from a Jewish convert. But the author's intelligence also is nearly his undoing: One Christmas Eve, the local German commandant visits and is serenaded; when he asks if anyone knows ``Silent Night'' in German, Breznitz's sister unthinkingly moves forward, her brother joining her in solidarity—and, as they sing, it occurs to them that the only Czechs who commonly knew German in that village were Jews, and that they have just given themselves away. And in fact they have: The German commandant leans forward and tells them not to worry, their parents will be coming back. Breznitz's narration and knowledge of psychological shadings make this scene and others heart-stopping and universal in a way few books of this kind manage to do. Likely to be a classic of Holocaust literature: not to be missed.

Pub Date: Jan. 7, 1993

ISBN: 0-679-40403-1

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 1992

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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