Of much interest to Russia hands, as well as admirers of Tolstaya’s fiction.

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PUSHKIN’S CHILDREN

WRITINGS ON RUSSIA AND RUSSIANS

Critical pieces (most for the New York Review of Books) that add up to a highly opinionated, irony-laced view of life and art in Soviet and post-Soviet Russia.

Born in 1951, fiction-writer Tolstaya (Sleepwalker in a Fog, 1992, etc.) bears a distinguished pedigree: her grandfather was the Stalin-era novelist Alexei Tolstoy, while another forebear was the Tolstoy of War and Peace fame. This exalted lineage afforded her and her family a degree of protection from the irrationalities, often murderous, of Soviet politics, about which she has much to say in these pages. Reviewing Robert Conquest’s The Great Terror, for instance, she remarks that Lenin hated the intelligentsia more than any other class, “and they were the first to be slaughtered,” precisely, she suggests, because they had a conscience and “were not indifferent to issues of social good”; strange it is, then, that so many intellectuals should esteem Lenin to this day. Assessing Gail Sheehy’s wide-eyed biography of Mikhail Gorbachev, she wryly notes that it does no good to wonder why Gorbachev should have told his people that he was a dedicated Communist while telling Margaret Thatcher that he was no longer one of the faithful, for such duplicity is of a piece with the Soviet pattern of rule, and no Russian would bat an eye on hearing of it. (Of Sheehy, she writes, perhaps unkindly, “There is not a trace of critical attitude toward her material.”) Writing of Boris Yeltsin’s time as president of Russia, during which the Western press was given to tongue-clucking over Yeltsin’s drinking and other moral failures, she reckons that it’s a good thing that “scandals of the Gary Hart–like variety leave us indifferent,” for had Yeltsin not thwarted the coup attempt of 1991, “Gorbachev would be dead, the cold war would be revived, Eastern Europe would be stained with blood, and Russian tanks would be in Berlin.” (And in any event, she adds, “a real Russian is always thinking about vodka.”) And so on, in acidic and always intelligent prose.

Of much interest to Russia hands, as well as admirers of Tolstaya’s fiction.

Pub Date: Jan. 15, 2003

ISBN: 0-618-12500-0

Page Count: 256

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2002

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DEAR MR. HENSHAW

Possibly inspired by the letters Cleary has received as a children's author, this begins with second-grader Leigh Botts' misspelled fan letter to Mr. Henshaw, whose fictitious book itself derives from the old take-off title Forty Ways W. Amuse a Dog. Soon Leigh is in sixth grade and bombarding his still-favorite author with a list of questions to be answered and returned by "next Friday," the day his author report is due. Leigh is disgruntled when Mr. Henshaw's answer comes late, and accompanied by a set of questions for Leigh to answer. He threatens not to, but as "Mom keeps nagging me about your dumb old questions" he finally gets the job done—and through his answers Mr. Henshaw and readers learn that Leigh considers himself "the mediumest boy in school," that his parents have split up, and that he dreams of his truck-driver dad driving him to school "hauling a forty-foot reefer, which would make his outfit add up to eighteen wheels altogether. . . . I guess I wouldn't seem so medium then." Soon Mr. Henshaw recommends keeping a diary (at least partly to get Leigh off his own back) and so the real letters to Mr. Henshaw taper off, with "pretend," unmailed letters (the diary) taking over. . . until Leigh can write "I don't have to pretend to write to Mr. Henshaw anymore. I have learned to say what I think on a piece of paper." Meanwhile Mr. Henshaw offers writing tips, and Leigh, struggling with a story for a school contest, concludes "I think you're right. Maybe I am not ready to write a story." Instead he writes a "true story" about a truck haul with his father in Leigh's real past, and this wins praise from "a real live author" Leigh meets through the school program. Mr. Henshaw has also advised that "a character in a story should solve a problem or change in some way," a standard juvenile-fiction dictum which Cleary herself applies modestly by having Leigh solve his disappearing lunch problem with a burglar-alarmed lunch box—and, more seriously, come to recognize and accept that his father can't be counted on. All of this, in Leigh's simple words, is capably and unobtrusively structured as well as valid and realistic. From the writing tips to the divorced-kid blues, however, it tends to substitute prevailing wisdom for the little jolts of recognition that made the Ramona books so rewarding.

Pub Date: Aug. 22, 1983

ISBN: 143511096X

Page Count: 133

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1983

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WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD

A LIFETIME OF RECORDINGS

Noted jazz and pop record producer Thiele offers a chatty autobiography. Aided by record-business colleague Golden, Thiele traces his career from his start as a ``pubescent, novice jazz record producer'' in the 1940s through the '50s, when he headed Coral, Dot, and Roulette Records, and the '60s, when he worked for ABC and ran the famous Impulse! jazz label. At Coral, Thiele championed the work of ``hillbilly'' singer Buddy Holly, although the only sessions he produced with Holly were marred by saccharine strings. The producer specialized in more mainstream popsters like the irrepressibly perky Teresa Brewer (who later became his fourth wife) and the bubble-machine muzak-meister Lawrence Welk. At Dot, Thiele was instrumental in recording Jack Kerouac's famous beat- generation ramblings to jazz accompaniment (recordings that Dot's president found ``pornographic''), while also overseeing a steady stream of pop hits. He then moved to the Mafia-controlled Roulette label, where he observed the ``silk-suited, pinky-ringed'' entourage who frequented the label's offices. Incredibly, however, Thiele remembers the famously hard-nosed Morris Levy, who ran the label and was eventually convicted of extortion, as ``one of the kindest, most warm-hearted, and classiest music men I have ever known.'' At ABC/Impulse!, Thiele oversaw the classic recordings of John Coltrane, although he is the first to admit that Coltrane essentially produced his own sessions. Like many producers of the day, Thiele participated in the ownership of publishing rights to some of the songs he recorded; he makes no apology for this practice, which he calls ``entirely appropriate and without any ethical conflicts.'' A pleasant, if not exactly riveting, memoir that will be of most interest to those with a thirst for cocktail-hour stories of the record biz. (25 halftones, not seen)

Pub Date: May 1, 1995

ISBN: 0-19-508629-4

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1995

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