On virtually every page is something to learn, something to remember, something to smooth the fur or raise the hackles—or...

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PUCCINI WITHOUT EXCUSES

An idiosyncratic source book on Giacomo Puccini (1858–1924).

Berger’s third installment in his series on significant opera composers (Verdi with a Vengeance, 2000, etc.) follows the same general intent as previous editions: Cram between the covers as much fact and judgment and even attitude as the market will bear. Here Berger includes an artistic apologia, a biography, a summary and analysis of the operas, descriptions of productions, a sketch of the composer’s place in popular culture and a list and critique of audio and video recordings. There is no gainsaying Berger’s mastery of his subject—or the vast dimensions of his research. He teaches in a patient, if at times tendentious, way. He makes few assumptions about his readers’ musical knowledge and in most cases eschews hyper-technical explanations of Puccini’s craft and art. Throughout, he employs allusions to popular culture (hoping to attract general readers?). The Beatles, Courtney Love, Cecil B. DeMille, the Seven Dwarves and Wile E. Coyote all make unexpected cameos. Berger instructs (in Turandot, the final syllable is pronounced doat), entertains (he describes a production of Madama Butterfly that ended with the detonation of an A-bomb) and amuses (Puccini wrote to his sister that comely American women could “make the Tower of Pisa stand erect”) And everywhere he opines. In Angelica, he says, one character is “perhaps the single biggest bitch in all opera (no mean accomplishment).” General readers will find most useful the swift biography, the summaries and commentaries on the operas and the recordings thereof; many will find merely puzzling (if not narcotizing) a long turgid essay that, among much else, rehashes Nietzsche’s The Birth of Tragedy and its distinction between Apollonian and Dionysian principles. Opera-lovers and aficionados will either love to hate or hate to love this text.

On virtually every page is something to learn, something to remember, something to smooth the fur or raise the hackles—or both.

Pub Date: Nov. 8, 2005

ISBN: 1-4000-7778-8

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Vintage

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2005

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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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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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