A lovely story that gets bogged down in detail.

FAMILY ROMANCE

A LOVE STORY

British novelist Lanchester (Fragrant Harbor, 2002, etc.) uncovers his mother’s secret life—nothing sordid, just surprising—and in the process comes to understand his own character.

“All families have secrets,” the author declares near the beginning of his uneven memoir. But it was not until after his parents’ deaths that he became more than vaguely aware of what his mother was hiding. He spent the next few years researching his parents’ lives and trying to understand in particular the demons that pursued his mother, Julia Gunnigan. Born in County Mayo to a large, impecunious Irish family, at age 16 (in 1937), she elected to enter a convent, as did several of her sisters. But Julia left convent life twice, the second time after she’d taken final vows. She tried nursing, teaching and writing under a pseudonym, then in London met Bill Lanchester, an attractive, intelligent international banker. (Born in South Africa, he had worked in Hong Kong, Singapore and other spots in Southeast Asia.) When they met in 1959, Bill was 33; Julia, nearing 40, took her sister’s name in order to delete nine years from her age. They married, and Julia spent the rest of her life lying about her past. The first two-thirds of the narrative presents the fruits of Lanchester’s research into his parents’ lives. Assuming that readers will find the minutiae of his mother’s life as compelling as he does, he reproduces pages of her dull letters from the convent, supplemented with his eye-glazing commentary. Once the author arrives on the scene, however, the pace quickens and interest intensifies. Lanchester writes affectingly of his relationships with his parents, of their painful deaths from heart conditions, of his struggles with debilitating panic attacks and his difficulties with writing.

A lovely story that gets bogged down in detail.

Pub Date: Feb. 15, 2007

ISBN: 0-399-15300-4

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Marian Wood/Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2006

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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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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