Murray has left as his final gift a lovely book of song. (8 pp. b&w photo insert)

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FORTISSIMO

BACKSTAGE AT THE OPERA WITH SACRED MONSTERS AND YOUNG SINGERS

A season in the lives of young singers struggling get noticed in the demanding world of opera, alluringly told by prolific writer and tenor Murray (City of the Soul, 2003, etc.).

The author, who died in March 2005, spent 24 weeks during the 2003–04 season with 12 artists in the Lyric Opera of Chicago training program, a launching pad for many great international careers. What makes the training program so special is not only the quality of its singers, but the talented coaches who guide the artists through their exercises and roles, instructing them in dramatic interpretation, language meaning and pronunciation and movement. Murray shines in chronicling the development of the singers’ technique; his prose is gratifying, his dry humor a pleasure. He is wonderfully adept at evoking the particular musical personalities of the singers, and he stands in awe of their courage and professionalism. Murray understatedly brings his own history as an opera singer into the picture when it helps shed light on the challenges faced by his subjects. (Of that career, he says: “[I]t never amounted to much, but it had deeply enriched my life.”) He is sensitive to the aspects of opera that help create “sacred monsters,” singers of such ego and celebrity they are like forces of nature. Aspiring artists are judged day after day, he writes, and rarely given more than a nod of acknowledgement. So if perchance one becomes a great star, he or she may well feel it’s another’s turn to play the supplicant.

Murray has left as his final gift a lovely book of song. (8 pp. b&w photo insert)

Pub Date: Sept. 13, 2005

ISBN: 1-4000-5360-9

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2005

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Outstanding in every respect.

A WILD JUSTICE

THE DEATH AND RESURRECTION OF CAPITAL PUNISHMENT IN AMERICA

When the Supreme Court declined to accept the appeal of a 1963 rape case, Justice Arthur Goldberg published an unusual dissent questioning the constitutionality of the death penalty. From this small beginning, Mandery (John Jay College of Criminal Justice; Q: A Novel, 2011, etc.) skillfully traces the building momentum within the country and the court to question the legality of a punishment the Founding Fathers took for granted.

Indeed, by 1972, in Furman v. Georgia, the court struck down death penalty statutes so similar to those in 40 other states that executions nationwide came to a halt. Disagreement among Furman’s 5-4 majority—was the death penalty “cruel and unusual” punishment under the Eighth Amendment, or was its arbitrary application a violation under the 14th?—and a forceful dissent hinted at a blueprint for states to rewrite their capital-sentencing schemes. By 1976, 35 had done so. In Gregg v. Georgia and its companion cases, the court approved the revised statutes, opening the door to 1,300 state-sponsored executions since. Relying on interviews with law clerks and attorneys, information from economists, criminologists and social scientists, arguments from political and legal scholars, a thorough knowledge of all applicable cases and sure-handed storytelling, Mandery focuses on the strategies of the Legal Defense Fund, the remarkable attorneys who led the charge for abolition, to cover virtually every dimension of the capital punishment debate. The author is especially strong on the individual backgrounds, personalities and judicial philosophies of the justices, the shifting alliances among them and the frustrating contingencies upon which momentous decisions sometimes turn. Even those weary of this topic will be riveted by his insider information about towering figures, lawyers and judges.

Outstanding in every respect.

Pub Date: Aug. 19, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-393-23958-4

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: June 9, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2013

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Shallow and woefully clichéd.

LAND OF A THOUSAND EYES

THE SUBTLE PLEASURES OF EVERYDAY LIFE IN MYANMAR

Hackneyed reflections from an Australian journalist who spent about a year-and-a-half in Yangon, Myanmar (formerly Rangoon, Burma).

Although he was there in 2003–04 to train reporters for the rigidly censored English-language newspaper, The Myanmar Times, Olszewski, former editor of Australian Playboy and leader of the Australian Marijuana Party, has chosen to write about Myanmar from a nonpolitical perspective. His memoir concentrates on “ ‘ordinary’ people” and “the ‘Chestertonian’ trivialities of life” (the author’s arch use of quotation marks is just one of his irritating traits). In a country ruled by a brutally repressive military regime, Olszewski led a privileged expatriate existence: attending parties and opening nights of cultural events, gossiping in cafes and bars, bemoaning the lack of electricity and hot water, learning to chew betel nut, drinking hash beer and snake wine, eyeing the passing women. His worst experience was undergoing surgery for gallstones in a Yangon hospital that had no painkillers containing opiates. The author describes local festivals and Buddhist ceremonies; extols the beauty and demeanor of Asian women, whom he clearly admires; and rants against other expats, whom he sees as arrogant and ignorant. As Olszewski tells it, Myanmar is colorful and romantic, and its people—who just happen to be mostly very poor and singularly repressed—are delightful, charming and filled with a joyous zest for life.

Shallow and woefully clichéd.

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 2006

ISBN: 1-74114-507-4

Page Count: 264

Publisher: Allen & Unwin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2006

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