An eye-opening look at the intersection of art and political power.

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SHOSTAKOVICH AND STALIN

THE EXTRAORDINARY RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE GREAT COMPOSER AND THE BRUTAL DICTATOR

A revealing portrait of the great composer Dmitri Shostakovich (1906–75), who managed to keep skin and soul intact during the worst years of the Soviet terror.

Art rarely flourishes under oppression; Joseph Stalin knew this, even if some cultural historians seem not to. One surprise in Volkov’s (St. Petersburg, 1995) richly detailed study is just how much political license artists such as Shostakovich, Mikhail Bulgakov, and Boris Pasternak enjoyed, as did other members of the intelligentsia. (Others, of course, were not so fortunate, for Stalin thrived on keeping his subjects off balance.) A case in point: in 1936, when Shostakovich came under attack in the pages of Pravda for “formalism,” many intellectuals publicly rose to his defense. “We are accustomed to thinking of the second half of the 1930s in the Soviet Union as a time of total fear, complete unanimity, and absolute subordination to the dictates of Party and state,” writes Volkov; yet the dissidents “denied the right of the Party and Stalin to dictate cultural opinions to them.” Volkov offers a masterful account of the fine art of accommodation: Stalin loosening the reins now and again as long as the artists kept producing, artists such as Shostakovich—especially Shostakovich—playing the yurodivy, or “holy fool,” to speak “dangerous but necessary truths to the face of the tsar.” (Yet not always to his face; Shostakovich also traded in subtleties, such as insinuating Jewish motifs into his music in order to protest official anti-Semitism.) Stalin was mercurial, of course—an actor who flubbed his lines in the leader’s presence went on to win the Stalin Prize, but the relevant cultural officials were purged—and the pace of oppression actually quickened after WWII, when Soviet intellectuals dared to hope more or less openly that the West, having dispatched one despot, would take Stalin on.

An eye-opening look at the intersection of art and political power.

Pub Date: March 29, 2004

ISBN: 0-375-41082-1

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2004

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Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

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UNTAMED

More life reflections from the bestselling author on themes of societal captivity and the catharsis of personal freedom.

In her third book, Doyle (Love Warrior, 2016, etc.) begins with a life-changing event. “Four years ago,” she writes, “married to the father of my three children, I fell in love with a woman.” That woman, Abby Wambach, would become her wife. Emblematically arranged into three sections—“Caged,” “Keys,” “Freedom”—the narrative offers, among other elements, vignettes about the soulful author’s girlhood, when she was bulimic and felt like a zoo animal, a “caged girl made for wide-open skies.” She followed the path that seemed right and appropriate based on her Catholic upbringing and adolescent conditioning. After a downward spiral into “drinking, drugging, and purging,” Doyle found sobriety and the authentic self she’d been suppressing. Still, there was trouble: Straining an already troubled marriage was her husband’s infidelity, which eventually led to life-altering choices and the discovery of a love she’d never experienced before. Throughout the book, Doyle remains open and candid, whether she’s admitting to rigging a high school homecoming court election or denouncing the doting perfectionism of “cream cheese parenting,” which is about “giving your children the best of everything.” The author’s fears and concerns are often mirrored by real-world issues: gender roles and bias, white privilege, racism, and religion-fueled homophobia and hypocrisy. Some stories merely skim the surface of larger issues, but Doyle revisits them in later sections and digs deeper, using friends and familial references to personify their impact on her life, both past and present. Shorter pieces, some only a page in length, manage to effectively translate an emotional gut punch, as when Doyle’s therapist called her blooming extramarital lesbian love a “dangerous distraction.” Ultimately, the narrative is an in-depth look at a courageous woman eager to share the wealth of her experiences by embracing vulnerability and reclaiming her inner strength and resiliency.

Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-0125-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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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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