THE ORCHARD

A MEMOIR

A foreboding memoir of the author’s early marriage into an agricultural family, and her emotional navigation between rootlessness and heritage.

In a key passage, novelist Weir (as Anne Frasier: Garden of Darkness, 2007, etc.) writes that “in that moment I understood that I’d stepped into a world I could never be a part of.” How could a citified woman, whose mother struggled with revolving-door relationships and an itinerant lifestyle, forge an enduring bond with a man whose apple-farming family was governed by appearances? The author dances around questions of belonging and trust as she compresses her outsider beginnings on her husband’s land with the years preceding his death, all while alternating between memories of a 1960s childhood. Threaded with abandonments and “[v]ery bad things that I will never talk about,” the jagged pastiche reveals a woman whose impetuous decision to marry a man she barely knew led to love, children and the tough realization that generations of pesticide-spraying would destroy her newly reconciled peace. Weir ably captures the stasis of rural life and the pain of difference with acuity, though the impact is diluted when in-laws and other characters emerge as archetypal rather than fully fleshed figures. The author frankly admits to deeply subjective interpretation, however, acknowledging that “[s]ometimes there are people you must forget because of the damage they cause—blood ties or not.” Recurrent hints of environmentally dangerous activity never quite develop into a parallel theme, remaining instead as touchstones for a narrative that reaches a crescendo with cancer diagnosis. The strongest feature of the book is the determined loyalty that allows Weir to discover beauty amid strife, as well as the touching conclusion. 

 

Pub Date: Sept. 21, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-446-58469-2

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: July 20, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2011

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Not only the definitive life, but a tour de force by a master.

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EDISON

One of history’s most prolific inventors receives his due from one of the world’s greatest biographers.

Pulitzer and National Book Award winner Morris (This Living Hand and Other Essays, 2012, etc.), who died this year, agrees that Thomas Edison (1847-1931) almost certainly said, “genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration,” and few readers of this outstanding biography will doubt that he was the quintessential workaholic. Raised in a middle-class Michigan family, Edison displayed an obsessive entrepreneurial spirit from childhood. As an adolescent, he ran a thriving business selling food and newspapers on a local railroad. Learning Morse code, he spent the Civil War as a telegrapher, impressing colleagues with his speed and superiors with his ability to improve the equipment. In 1870, he opened his own shop to produce inventions to order. By 1876, he had money to build a large laboratory in New Jersey, possibly the world’s first industrial research facility. Never a loner, Edison hired talented people to assist him. The dazzling results included the first commercially successful light bulb for which, Morris reminds readers, he invented the entire system: dynamo, wires, transformers, connections, and switches. Critics proclaim that Edison’s innovations (motion pictures, fluoroscope, rechargeable batteries, mimeograph, etc.) were merely improvements on others’ work, but this is mostly a matter of sour grapes. Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone was a clunky, short-range device until it added Edison’s carbon microphone. And his phonograph flabbergasted everyone. Humans had been making images long before Daguerre, but no one had ever reproduced sound. Morris rivetingly describes the personalities, business details, and practical uses of Edison’s inventions as well as the massive technical details of years of research and trial and error for both his triumphs and his failures. For no obvious reason, the author writes in reverse chronological order, beginning in 1920, with each of the seven following chapters backtracking a decade. It may not satisfy all readers, but it works.

Not only the definitive life, but a tour de force by a master.

Pub Date: Oct. 22, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9311-0

Page Count: 800

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: July 15, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

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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