MARIA CALLAS

SACRED MONSTER

A personal friend of the celebrated opera singer offers a pedestrian but solid biography notable for extensive quotes from Callas’s own reflections on her life and career. The basic facts are well known. Galatopoulos (Italia Opera, not reviewed, etc.), a music critic and biographer who first met the soprano in 1947, maintains a respectful—indeed, rather dull—tone as he sketches the familiar tale: unhappy childhood in New York and Athens; pushed as a musical prodigy by her domineering mother; brilliant, controversial success in the1950s as a passionate singing actress unafraid to make harsh sounds if they served the cause of characterization; her liaison with Aristotle Onassis; increasing vocal problems that led to her retirement from the operatic stage in 1965; and sudden death, probably from heart failure, at the age of 53 in 1977. Taking a Maria’s-eye view, the author presents every cancellation as due to ill health or a hostile management’s unreasonable demands; the break-up of her marriage as the result of her husband’s money-grubbing (the affair with Onassis began later, she claimed); the famous feuds as media exaggerations (she even liked fellow diva Renata Tebaldi, at first). None of this is especially interesting or convincing, but the author’s obvious personal investment in Callas is justified by the marvelous material he elicited from her about her work. Lengthy quotations reveal the diva’s sharp intelligence, her reverence for opera’s history and traditions, her emotional engagement with each role, and her complete dedication to fulfilling the composer’s intentions. Galatopoulos’s enthusiastic descriptions of Callas’s greatest performances—in Norma, Medea, Tosca; as Violetta in La Traviata—make her genius live for those who never saw her. Neither the writing nor the thinking are sophisticated enough to make this a great biography, but to emphasize Callas’s revolutionary artistry over her private affairs makes for a refreshing change from lurid pieces of recent pop-psych speculation (e.g., Arianna Stassinopoulos’s Maria Callas, l981). (100 b&w photos, not seen)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-684-85985-8

Page Count: 544

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1999

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A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor...

INTO THE WILD

The excruciating story of a young man on a quest for knowledge and experience, a search that eventually cooked his goose, told with the flair of a seasoned investigative reporter by Outside magazine contributing editor Krakauer (Eiger Dreams, 1990). 

Chris McCandless loved the road, the unadorned life, the Tolstoyan call to asceticism. After graduating college, he took off on another of his long destinationless journeys, this time cutting all contact with his family and changing his name to Alex Supertramp. He was a gent of strong opinions, and he shared them with those he met: "You must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life''; "be nomadic.'' Ultimately, in 1992, his terms got him into mortal trouble when he ran up against something—the Alaskan wild—that didn't give a hoot about Supertramp's worldview; his decomposed corpse was found 16 weeks after he entered the bush. Many people felt McCandless was just a hubris-laden jerk with a death wish (he had discarded his map before going into the wild and brought no food but a bag of rice). Krakauer thought not. Admitting an interest that bordered on obsession, he dug deep into McCandless's life. He found a willful, reckless, moody boyhood; an ugly little secret that sundered the relationship between father and son; a moral absolutism that agitated the young man's soul and drove him to extremes; but he was no more a nutcase than other pilgrims. Writing in supple, electric prose, Krakauer tries to make sense of McCandless (while scrupulously avoiding off-the-rack psychoanalysis): his risky behavior and the rites associated with it, his asceticism, his love of wide open spaces, the flights of his soul.

A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor will it to readers of Krakauer's narrative. (4 maps) (First printing of 35,000; author tour)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-42850-X

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Villard

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1995

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Skloot's meticulous, riveting account strikes a humanistic balance between sociological history, venerable portraiture and...

THE IMMORTAL LIFE OF HENRIETTA LACKS

A dense, absorbing investigation into the medical community's exploitation of a dying woman and her family's struggle to salvage truth and dignity decades later.

In a well-paced, vibrant narrative, Popular Science contributor and Culture Dish blogger Skloot (Creative Writing/Univ. of Memphis) demonstrates that for every human cell put under a microscope, a complex life story is inexorably attached, to which doctors, researchers and laboratories have often been woefully insensitive and unaccountable. In 1951, Henrietta Lacks, an African-American mother of five, was diagnosed with what proved to be a fatal form of cervical cancer. At Johns Hopkins, the doctors harvested cells from her cervix without her permission and distributed them to labs around the globe, where they were multiplied and used for a diverse array of treatments. Known as HeLa cells, they became one of the world's most ubiquitous sources for medical research of everything from hormones, steroids and vitamins to gene mapping, in vitro fertilization, even the polio vaccine—all without the knowledge, must less consent, of the Lacks family. Skloot spent a decade interviewing every relative of Lacks she could find, excavating difficult memories and long-simmering outrage that had lay dormant since their loved one's sorrowful demise. Equal parts intimate biography and brutal clinical reportage, Skloot's graceful narrative adeptly navigates the wrenching Lack family recollections and the sobering, overarching realities of poverty and pre–civil-rights racism. The author's style is matched by a methodical scientific rigor and manifest expertise in the field.

Skloot's meticulous, riveting account strikes a humanistic balance between sociological history, venerable portraiture and Petri dish politics.

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-4000-5217-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2010

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