Kirkus Star


A Memoir Of My Times


Talking to himself, Terkel is laconic, wry, sometimes baffling. He needs his machinery, his Sony and his Uher. ("I have a theory. I am a nco-Cartesian: I tape therefore I am.") He will reveal himself only as refracted through interviews with others, only in anecdotal banter. We learn in this memoir, a raggle-taggle patchwork, that Terkel was raised in his mother's Chicago hotel for transient men; there he learned to listen and to wait for the unforeseen moments when people reveal themselves. He learned from Civlization, the erudite dishwasher who regularly shot off "massive registered letters" to Ramsey MacDonald, Henry Ford, Leon Trotsky, Bertrand Russell, and "our city's most distinguished entrepreneur," Al Capone. He learned from the soapbox orators at Bughouse Square where "the colloquy was as convoluted as it was profound." He studied the underside of Chicago while running errands for petty gangsters and poll watching at rigged elections. Terkel admits to an abhorrence of confrontations or "scenes." Better to listen--though much of that listening is done during confrontations: on "jubilee day" in Montgomery, Ada., in 1965; in Chicago, 1968, where Terkel found himself locked in a hotel with Jules Feiffer, William Styron, and British journalist James Cameron. Though his peregrinations extend from Wales and Bertrand Russell--who will talk only about nuclear disarmament: "let them call me fanatic"--to the Artic Circle where a Swede asks him, "Mahalia Yackson. You know her?"--the inflections and sensibility here are all Chicago. Terkel keeps it taut all the way through; no solemnities, and much to laught at. He could make you believe that the world is populated by the cast-offs of Saroyan and O'Neill. Find yourself a corner and listen to him listen.
Pub Date: April 18th, 1977
ISBN: 1565843193
Page count: 346pp
Publisher: Pantheon
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 1977


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