A fascinating look into a prolific author’s mind, especially welcome since there have not been enough English translations...

A memoir caught in the throes of linguistic biculturalism.

“My greatest fear has always been that I might leave myself open to ridicule,” writes Kallifatides, the Greek writer and translator who has spent most of his life in Sweden. “Write something so dire that even the gulls flying over Stömmen would snigger. I was more afraid of writing badly than not writing at all.” He begins at a moment that most writers experience, at times devastatingly so: the inability to write. Frantic about his writer’s block, Kallifatides meditates on the act of writing and its many different shapes. Unlike most memoirs, which follow the writer’s life more or less from start to finish (or present day), this brief book throws readers directly into the author’s exploration of his biculturalism. Born in Greece in 1938, Kallifatides immigrated in 1963 to Sweden, where he spent the majority of his life and wrote his books (in Swedish). When the memoir opens, the author is looking for ways in which he can use his experiences in Sweden to fuel his writing practice—to no avail. So he and his wife set off for Greece to revisit his childhood home and walk through the streets of his lost city. Acting as both citizen and visitor, Kallifatides is stuck between two cultures. This comes at a price, as he has forgotten much of the Greek language. “My forgetfulness was not a coincidence but evidence that I was distancing myself from myself,” he writes. Readers witness the author’s efforts to overcome his writer’s block through countless meditations on a writer’s motivation, the culture interwoven in language, and language as a tool through which identity is created. Kallifatides has written an unusual and refreshing memoir that uses critical theory to explain an individual behavior.

A fascinating look into a prolific author’s mind, especially welcome since there have not been enough English translations of his books.

Pub Date: Sept. 25, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-59051-945-5

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Other Press

Review Posted Online: May 27, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2018


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



Well-told and admonitory.

Young-rags-to-mature-riches memoir by broker and motivational speaker Gardner.

Born and raised in the Milwaukee ghetto, the author pulled himself up from considerable disadvantage. He was fatherless, and his adored mother wasn’t always around; once, as a child, he spied her at a family funeral accompanied by a prison guard. When beautiful, evanescent Moms was there, Chris also had to deal with Freddie “I ain’t your goddamn daddy!” Triplett, one of the meanest stepfathers in recent literature. Chris did “the dozens” with the homies, boosted a bit and in the course of youthful adventure was raped. His heroes were Miles Davis, James Brown and Muhammad Ali. Meanwhile, at the behest of Moms, he developed a fondness for reading. He joined the Navy and became a medic (preparing badass Marines for proctology), and a proficient lab technician. Moving up in San Francisco, married and then divorced, he sold medical supplies. He was recruited as a trainee at Dean Witter just around the time he became a homeless single father. All his belongings in a shopping cart, Gardner sometimes slept with his young son at the office (apparently undiscovered by the night cleaning crew). The two also frequently bedded down in a public restroom. After Gardner’s talents were finally appreciated by the firm of Bear Stearns, his American Dream became real. He got the cool duds, hot car and fine ladies so coveted from afar back in the day. He even had a meeting with Nelson Mandela. Through it all, he remained a prideful parent. His own no-daddy blues are gone now.

Well-told and admonitory.

Pub Date: June 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-06-074486-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2006

Close Quickview