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Literature knows few champions as ardent and insightful—or as uncompromising—as Gornick, which is to readers’ good fortune.

Gornick’s (The Odd Woman and the City, 2016) ferocious but principled intelligence emanates from each of the essays in this distinctive collection.

Rereading texts, and comparing her most recent perceptions against those of the past, is the linchpin of the book, with the author revisiting such celebrated novels as D.H. Lawrence's Sons and Lovers, Colette's The Vagabond, Marguerite Duras' The Lover, and Elizabeth Bowen's The House in Paris. Gornick also explores the history and changing face of Jewish American fiction as expressions of "the other." The author reads more deeply and keenly than most, with perceptions amplified by the perspective of her 84 years. Though she was an avatar of "personal journalism" and a former staff writer for the Village Voice—a publication that “had a muckraking bent which made its writers…sound as if they were routinely holding a gun to society’s head”—here, Gornick mostly subordinates her politics to the power of literature, to the books that have always been her intimates, old friends to whom she could turn time and again. "I read ever and only to feel the power of Life with a capital L," she writes; it shows. The author believes that for those willing to relinquish treasured but outmoded interpretations, rereading over a span of decades can be a journey, sometimes unsettling, toward richer meanings of books that are touchstones of one's life. As always, Gornick reveals as much about herself as about the writers whose works she explores; particularly arresting are her essays on Lawrence and on Natalia Ginzburg. Some may feel she has a tendency to overdramatize, but none will question her intellectual honesty. It is reflected throughout, perhaps nowhere so vividly as in a vignette involving a stay in Israel, where, try as she might, Gornick could not get past the "appalling tribalism of the culture.”

Literature knows few champions as ardent and insightful—or as uncompromising—as Gornick, which is to readers’ good fortune.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-374-28215-8

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Oct. 9, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 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...

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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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

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