A deep, vibrant recollection of a fascinating life lived in tumultuous times.

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Socialism v. Santa

GROWING UP, REAL LIFE IN SOCIALIST YUGOSLAVIA, AN ARTIST IN US

A debut memoir places the author’s personal history in the panoramic context of world events. 

Memoirs have a tendency to collapse, failing to provide a justification to readers as to why they should care about the details of a particular life. Diamant weaves her own autobiography into the fabric of world history, furnishing a sweeping account of the troubled past of Yugoslavia. Having grown up in postwar Yugoslavia under Tito’s rule, the author portrays a nation struggling to discover, or invent, its identity. Diamant’s reflections on socialism, an ideology she eventually, if only partially, rebelled against, are philosophically provocative: “From the start, I was buffeted by contradictory influences. Socialism implanted in us notions of equality and justice for all, while everyday life demanded to either live accordingly or skirt those ideals.” She eventually left her homeland to study in West Germany, met an American in Munich whom she married, and moved to San Francisco, a hotbed of cultural vitality, in the 1970s. There, Diamant found her bearings as an artist, a development she doubted would have been possible if she hadn’t moved to the U.S. The author’s account includes nearly as much biographical information about her mother and grandmother as it does about herself, a testament to the extraordinary influences both women had upon her. (“Every child deserves a grandmother like mine,” Diamant writes. “She was never effusive, but everything said was meant and true.”) The author’s writing is clear and sharp, and her vivid anecdotal reports of her life are typically accompanied by meditative reflections on a wide range of issues, from geopolitics to poverty. The book describes her childhood as “poor but not miserable,” delivering a welcome counterpoint to Western depictions of life in postwar Yugoslavia that sensationally emphasize squalor and despair. The deaths of her mother and grandmother are poignantly discussed as transformative moments in her life, as is the dissolution of Yugoslavia, the three pillars of her self-conception. The memoir’s most satisfying aspect is the artful way the author seamlessly combines the general and the particular, making her own life a microcosm of universally relevant human dramas. In response to a postcard her uncle sent in 1938, she wrote: “What existential uncertainty—both personal and of the times.” The reader will likely feel the same about this affecting remembrance. 

A deep, vibrant recollection of a fascinating life lived in tumultuous times. 

Pub Date: March 5, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-578-14200-5

Page Count: 258

Publisher: Applebite Works

Review Posted Online: Feb. 15, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2016

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WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD

A LIFETIME OF RECORDINGS

Noted jazz and pop record producer Thiele offers a chatty autobiography. Aided by record-business colleague Golden, Thiele traces his career from his start as a ``pubescent, novice jazz record producer'' in the 1940s through the '50s, when he headed Coral, Dot, and Roulette Records, and the '60s, when he worked for ABC and ran the famous Impulse! jazz label. At Coral, Thiele championed the work of ``hillbilly'' singer Buddy Holly, although the only sessions he produced with Holly were marred by saccharine strings. The producer specialized in more mainstream popsters like the irrepressibly perky Teresa Brewer (who later became his fourth wife) and the bubble-machine muzak-meister Lawrence Welk. At Dot, Thiele was instrumental in recording Jack Kerouac's famous beat- generation ramblings to jazz accompaniment (recordings that Dot's president found ``pornographic''), while also overseeing a steady stream of pop hits. He then moved to the Mafia-controlled Roulette label, where he observed the ``silk-suited, pinky-ringed'' entourage who frequented the label's offices. Incredibly, however, Thiele remembers the famously hard-nosed Morris Levy, who ran the label and was eventually convicted of extortion, as ``one of the kindest, most warm-hearted, and classiest music men I have ever known.'' At ABC/Impulse!, Thiele oversaw the classic recordings of John Coltrane, although he is the first to admit that Coltrane essentially produced his own sessions. Like many producers of the day, Thiele participated in the ownership of publishing rights to some of the songs he recorded; he makes no apology for this practice, which he calls ``entirely appropriate and without any ethical conflicts.'' A pleasant, if not exactly riveting, memoir that will be of most interest to those with a thirst for cocktail-hour stories of the record biz. (25 halftones, not seen)

Pub Date: May 1, 1995

ISBN: 0-19-508629-4

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1995

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Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

A LITTLE HISTORY OF POETRY

A light-speed tour of (mostly) Western poetry, from the 4,000-year-old Gilgamesh to the work of Australian poet Les Murray, who died in 2019.

In the latest entry in the publisher’s Little Histories series, Carey, an emeritus professor at Oxford whose books include What Good Are the Arts? and The Unexpected Professor: An Oxford Life in Books, offers a quick definition of poetry—“relates to language as music relates to noise. It is language made special”—before diving in to poetry’s vast history. In most chapters, the author deals with only a few writers, but as the narrative progresses, he finds himself forced to deal with far more than a handful. In his chapter on 20th-century political poets, for example, he talks about 14 writers in seven pages. Carey displays a determination to inform us about who the best poets were—and what their best poems were. The word “greatest” appears continually; Chaucer was “the greatest medieval English poet,” and Langston Hughes was “the greatest male poet” of the Harlem Renaissance. For readers who need a refresher—or suggestions for the nightstand—Carey provides the best-known names and the most celebrated poems, including Paradise Lost (about which the author has written extensively), “Kubla Khan,” “Ozymandias,” “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” Wordsworth and Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads, which “changed the course of English poetry.” Carey explains some poetic technique (Hopkins’ “sprung rhythm”) and pauses occasionally to provide autobiographical tidbits—e.g., John Masefield, who wrote the famous “Sea Fever,” “hated the sea.” We learn, as well, about the sexuality of some poets (Auden was bisexual), and, especially later on, Carey discusses the demons that drove some of them, Robert Lowell and Sylvia Plath among them. Refreshingly, he includes many women in the volume—all the way back to Sappho—and has especially kind words for Marianne Moore and Elizabeth Bishop, who share a chapter.

Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-300-23222-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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