A historically eye-opening memoir told with insight and wit.

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COMMUNIST DAZE

THE MANY MISADVENTURES OF A SOVIET DOCTOR

A physician recounts three years of service in a small Soviet village and the horrors of the communist medical system. 

In exchange for tuition-free medical school, Tsesis (Why We Remain Jews, 2013) was obligated to perform three years of service as a doctor in an “underserved area”—in his case, Gradieshti, a farming village of 5,000 inhabitants in rural Moldova. The author was almost forcibly pushed into military service—he was threatened with academic failure—but saved from that fate because he was a pediatrician, a specialty dangerously underrepresented in the Soviet Union, which was plagued by terrifyingly high infant mortality rates. When he arrived in Gradieshti, he encountered remarkably primitive conditions—few homes enjoyed the unreliably delivered electricity or had indoor plumbing; poverty was crushing; alcoholism was “rampant”; and the sanitary conditions were appalling. In short, it was a woeful microcosm of the Soviet Union at large, vividly captured by the author. And the health system itself was nothing like the “grandiose global show” theatrically staged by the government—in fact, there were chronic shortages of basic medicines, including penicillin; undertrained doctors deprived of the best equipment; and ubiquitous corruption, all masked by mendaciously contrived data. In his memoir, Tsesis also chillingly describes his unfortunate encounters with an all-too-common anti-Semitism—in one recollection, he’s nearly ousted from a neighborhood tavern for being a “dirty kike.” And just as Soviet authorities disseminate false information to the outside world, they shield their own from exposure to more successful alternatives. Tsesis was denied permission to use his vacation time to take a cruise to the Mediterranean, the desire to travel considered inherently suspicious. The author’s remembrance is an edifying look at the wages of authoritarian rule, which resulted in the routine deaths of young children from easily treatable conditions like dehydration. His account is unflinching and often moving: The story a tearful wife shared with Tsesis captures the heart of this book. Her husband had to beg an official to give their sick child the proper medicine. She lamented: “I am a law-abiding citizen, but I ask you, is it fair to go through all this humiliation?” 

A historically eye-opening memoir told with insight and wit. 

Pub Date: Feb. 13, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-253-02594-4

Page Count: 238

Publisher: Indiana University Press

Review Posted Online: Nov. 20, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2019

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Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

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UNTAMED

More life reflections from the bestselling author on themes of societal captivity and the catharsis of personal freedom.

In her third book, Doyle (Love Warrior, 2016, etc.) begins with a life-changing event. “Four years ago,” she writes, “married to the father of my three children, I fell in love with a woman.” That woman, Abby Wambach, would become her wife. Emblematically arranged into three sections—“Caged,” “Keys,” “Freedom”—the narrative offers, among other elements, vignettes about the soulful author’s girlhood, when she was bulimic and felt like a zoo animal, a “caged girl made for wide-open skies.” She followed the path that seemed right and appropriate based on her Catholic upbringing and adolescent conditioning. After a downward spiral into “drinking, drugging, and purging,” Doyle found sobriety and the authentic self she’d been suppressing. Still, there was trouble: Straining an already troubled marriage was her husband’s infidelity, which eventually led to life-altering choices and the discovery of a love she’d never experienced before. Throughout the book, Doyle remains open and candid, whether she’s admitting to rigging a high school homecoming court election or denouncing the doting perfectionism of “cream cheese parenting,” which is about “giving your children the best of everything.” The author’s fears and concerns are often mirrored by real-world issues: gender roles and bias, white privilege, racism, and religion-fueled homophobia and hypocrisy. Some stories merely skim the surface of larger issues, but Doyle revisits them in later sections and digs deeper, using friends and familial references to personify their impact on her life, both past and present. Shorter pieces, some only a page in length, manage to effectively translate an emotional gut punch, as when Doyle’s therapist called her blooming extramarital lesbian love a “dangerous distraction.” Ultimately, the narrative is an in-depth look at a courageous woman eager to share the wealth of her experiences by embracing vulnerability and reclaiming her inner strength and resiliency.

Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-0125-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

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BECOMING

The former first lady opens up about her early life, her journey to the White House, and the eight history-making years that followed.

It’s not surprising that Obama grew up a rambunctious kid with a stubborn streak and an “I’ll show you” attitude. After all, it takes a special kind of moxie to survive being the first African-American FLOTUS—and not only survive, but thrive. For eight years, we witnessed the adversity the first family had to face, and now we get to read what it was really like growing up in a working-class family on Chicago’s South Side and ending up at the world’s most famous address. As the author amply shows, her can-do attitude was daunted at times by racism, leaving her wondering if she was good enough. Nevertheless, she persisted, graduating from Chicago’s first magnet high school, Princeton, and Harvard Law School, and pursuing careers in law and the nonprofit world. With her characteristic candor and dry wit, she recounts the story of her fateful meeting with her future husband. Once they were officially a couple, her feelings for him turned into a “toppling blast of lust, gratitude, fulfillment, wonder.” But for someone with a “natural resistance to chaos,” being the wife of an ambitious politician was no small feat, and becoming a mother along the way added another layer of complexity. Throw a presidential campaign into the mix, and even the most assured woman could begin to crack under the pressure. Later, adjusting to life in the White House was a formidable challenge for the self-described “control freak”—not to mention the difficulty of sparing their daughters the ugly side of politics and preserving their privacy as much as possible. Through it all, Obama remained determined to serve with grace and help others through initiatives like the White House garden and her campaign to fight childhood obesity. And even though she deems herself “not a political person,” she shares frank thoughts about the 2016 election.

An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6313-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 30, 2018

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