Judiciously political, Smith wears her liberalism gracefully, though with qualifications. She is never less than a...

The author complements her celebrated fiction with an equally compelling collection of essays and reviews embracing literary, art, film, and cultural criticism, amplified by a dissection of the vagaries of modern life.

In her second book of essays, Smith (Swing Time, 2016, etc.) likens her wide-ranging yet unified pieces to thinking aloud while fretting she might make herself sound ludicrous—far from it; if only all such thoughts were so cogent and unfailingly humane. The author is honest, often impassioned, always sober. Though she disclaims any advanced academic degrees or formal journalistic training, she produces sharp analyses of contemporary issues that are no less substantial for being personalized. Smith executes these pieces with consummate skill, though her critical faculties seem to take a hiatus when rhapsodizing over certain pop entertainers—e.g., comparing Madonna and Michael Jackson (as dancers) to Astaire and Rogers, to the Nicholas brothers, to Nureyev and Baryshnikov. But these are exceptions. Collected from essays published chiefly in the New Yorker and the New York Review of Books, all during the eight years of the Barack Obama presidency, the essays risk being dated, but Smith's observations are timeless. Freedom, in one form or another, is at the core of the book, as are identity, race, class, family, art, meaning, and the many permutations of cultural vandalism. She opens with a defense of libraries in a digitalized world and closes with her eccentric, justly renowned musings “Find Your Beach” and “Joy.” In between, she offers lovely portraits of her parents, an astute look at the comedy duo Key and Peele, a brilliant critique of the art of Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, appreciations of such disparate British authors as J.G. Ballard, Hanif Kureishi, and Geoff Dyer, and a riff on Joni Mitchell that morphs into a self-revelatory piece on “attunement,” rich with philosophical ideas.

Judiciously political, Smith wears her liberalism gracefully, though with qualifications. She is never less than a formidable intellect, with an imposing command of literary and artistic canons.

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-59420-625-2

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Nov. 19, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2017


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



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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