A sharply intelligent, lyrically provocative memoir.



A feminist nonfiction writer’s memoir about growing up between two cultures and her search for the mother from whom she was separated as a child.

When she was young, Shalmiyev’s Azerbaijani father took her alcoholic Russian mother to court. A judge declared Elena—who was so addicted she drank cologne when she didn’t have vodka—an unfit mother, estranging her from the family. Her father spirited his daughter away from Leningrad “without a goodbye” to Elena just before the fall of communism and immigrated to the United States. Settling in New York, he married a Ukrainian woman who followed him from Leningrad. The teenage Shalmiyev developed an interest in feminism and female artists such as Sappho, Doris Lessing, and Kathy Acker, among others. Throughout, the author interweaves references to these figures among the impressionistic vignettes that comprise the primary narrative. She also recounts the days in her early 20s when she worked as a peep show stripper among women “caustic with mocking sarcasm, not having any of IT.” With Elena never far from her thoughts, she also secretly wrote letters to her mother in English as a “process of mourning my mother [and]…what she did and did not provide me in life.” Shalmiyev then returned to Russia to look for Elena only to find that she could not locate her mother anywhere. She continued living aimlessly after that, indulging her penchant for parties and “loud and raucous night[s] that ignore[d] the nuzzling rays of daylight.” When she finally married, it was with trepidation—not just for the end of her “party-girl” days, but also for a life of settled domesticity. Shalmiyev knew it was in her just as it was in her mother “to leave [her] children…[and] make them unhappy.” Ultimately, though, she chose a path that tested her ability to nurture and forgive. A rich tapestry of autobiography and meditations on feminism, motherhood, art, and culture, this book is as intellectually satisfying as it is artistically profound.

A sharply intelligent, lyrically provocative memoir.

Pub Date: Feb. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5011-9308-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Nov. 10, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2018

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.


The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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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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