DREISER'S RUSSIAN DIARY

Notes on Theodore Dreiser's two-month 192728 tour of the Soviet Union that provided the material for the book Dreiser Looks at Russia (1928). Its title notwithstanding, much of this ``diary'' was penned by American-born Ruth Epperson Kennell, then living in Russia. As Dreiser's secretary (and lover), she kept notes that Dreiser reviewed and annotated at the time, and later edited. Together, they describe visits to places as varied as the Hermitage, the State Circus, the Czar's Village (``the worst palace I have ever seen,'' says Kennell in Dreiser's voice), a candy factory, an ``electro- mechanical'' plant, and a coal mine. In addition to chatting with Communist bureaucrats (questioned with terrier-like tenacity, as he tries to expose failings in the system), Dreiser converses with people ranging from Sergei Eisenstein and Konstantin Stanislavski to a woman who, mistaking the author and his entourage for an inspection commission, complains of dampness in her walls. Although Kennell includes comments to please people at VOKS (the government cultural agency to whom, without telling Dreiser, she supplied a duplicate of most of her portion of the diary), much here will be interesting to scholars—particularly when read in conjunction with Dreiser's 1928 volume and with Kennell's own book on the trip. En route to Russia, Dreiser speculates that after a revolution ``the miraculous will become the real,'' and, indeed, he is determined to see the ``real'' Russia. At times, perhaps, the experiences become a bit too real, as Dreiser grouses about unreliable trains, mediocre food, and seemingly ever-present filth. By the end of the tour he has seen enough reality to say (per Kennell-Dreiser), ``My one desire is to get out of here as quickly as possible and back to America.'' The editors, Riggio (English/Univ. of Connecticut) and West (English/Pennsylvania State Univ.), have prepared a volume that is primarily for those interested in Dreiser or in the USSR of the 1920s.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-8122-8091-1

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Univ. of Pennsylvania

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1996

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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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