The pleasures here are in the slow accretion of detail—albeit too many details on occasion—and awareness that allows O’Neill...

BLOOD-DARK TRACK

A FAMILY HISTORY

An unwieldy family memoir that also yields some choice scenes, centering on a brace of grandfathers interned for suspected enemy sympathies, from novelist O’Neill (This Is the Life, 1991).

It is fascinating that both of O’Neill’s grandfathers were imprisoned during WWII on suspicion that they had aided the German war effort. What was the truth to these allegations that so disrupted these families, then and later? O’Neill visits the personal landscapes of the two men: one from Ireland and the other from Turkey, the latter a narcissist and petty tyrant to his family, a bit of a prig and a skirt-chaser, the former a picaresque member of the IRA. In writing that is somber, like a long day of rain, O’Neill conjures a portrait of the men: Joseph Dakad from Mersin, Turkey, a town of verandas and gardens and large stone houses, arrested in the Levant on charges that he was a possible spy, perhaps aiding the Jewish underground—but the more compelling case is that he was interned while on a lemon-buying trip for no better reason than he was Turkish. The cruelty of his jail time is excruciating to read, full as it is of suicide attempts, poisonings, and repeated threats of execution, all detailed in the testimony Dakad wrote after the three-and-a-half-year ordeal was over. Grandfather O’Neill’s internment is set within the context of IRA activity at the time of the war and the fact that he was a vibrant member of the Republicans. Nonetheless, their lives thereafter were shrouded in a secrecy that took a deep toll on the family and served as testament to living “in extraordinarily hateful and hazardous places and times,” one that required an understanding and forgiveness that both spurred and is a result of this book.

The pleasures here are in the slow accretion of detail—albeit too many details on occasion—and awareness that allows O’Neill to create an abiding image of a two places during a moment in history.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2001

ISBN: 1-86207-288-4

Page Count: 340

Publisher: Granta

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2001

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A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor...

INTO THE WILD

The excruciating story of a young man on a quest for knowledge and experience, a search that eventually cooked his goose, told with the flair of a seasoned investigative reporter by Outside magazine contributing editor Krakauer (Eiger Dreams, 1990). 

Chris McCandless loved the road, the unadorned life, the Tolstoyan call to asceticism. After graduating college, he took off on another of his long destinationless journeys, this time cutting all contact with his family and changing his name to Alex Supertramp. He was a gent of strong opinions, and he shared them with those he met: "You must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life''; "be nomadic.'' Ultimately, in 1992, his terms got him into mortal trouble when he ran up against something—the Alaskan wild—that didn't give a hoot about Supertramp's worldview; his decomposed corpse was found 16 weeks after he entered the bush. Many people felt McCandless was just a hubris-laden jerk with a death wish (he had discarded his map before going into the wild and brought no food but a bag of rice). Krakauer thought not. Admitting an interest that bordered on obsession, he dug deep into McCandless's life. He found a willful, reckless, moody boyhood; an ugly little secret that sundered the relationship between father and son; a moral absolutism that agitated the young man's soul and drove him to extremes; but he was no more a nutcase than other pilgrims. Writing in supple, electric prose, Krakauer tries to make sense of McCandless (while scrupulously avoiding off-the-rack psychoanalysis): his risky behavior and the rites associated with it, his asceticism, his love of wide open spaces, the flights of his soul.

A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor will it to readers of Krakauer's narrative. (4 maps) (First printing of 35,000; author tour)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-42850-X

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Villard

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1995

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A potent depiction of grief, but also a book lacking the originality and acerbic prose that distinguished Didion’s earlier...

  • National Book Award Winner

  • Pulitzer Prize Finalist

  • National Book Critics Circle Finalist

THE YEAR OF MAGICAL THINKING

A moving record of Didion’s effort to survive the death of her husband and the near-fatal illness of her only daughter.

In late December 2003, Didion (Where I Was From, 2003, etc.) saw her daughter, Quintana Roo Dunne, hospitalized with a severe case of pneumonia, the lingering effects of which would threaten the young woman’s life for several months to come. As her daughter struggled in a New York ICU, Didion’s husband, John Gregory Dunne, suffered a massive heart attack and died on the night of December 30, 2003. For 40 years, Didion and Dunne shared their lives and work in a marriage of remarkable intimacy and endurance. In the wake of Dunne’s death, Didion found herself unable to accept her loss. By “magical thinking,” Didion refers to the ruses of self-deception through which the bereaved seek to shield themselves from grief—being unwilling, for example, to donate a dead husband’s clothes because of the tacit awareness that it would mean acknowledging his final departure. As a poignant and ultimately doomed effort to deny reality through fiction, that magical thinking has much in common with the delusions Didion has chronicled in her several previous collections of essays. But perhaps because it is a work of such intense personal emotion, this memoir lacks the mordant bite of her earlier work. In the classics Slouching Toward Bethlehem (1968) and The White Album (1979), Didion linked her personal anxieties to her withering dissection of a misguided culture prey to its own self-gratifying fantasies. This latest work concentrates almost entirely on the author’s personal suffering and confusion—even her husband and daughter make but fleeting appearances—without connecting them to the larger public delusions that have been her special terrain.

A potent depiction of grief, but also a book lacking the originality and acerbic prose that distinguished Didion’s earlier writing.

Pub Date: Oct. 19, 2005

ISBN: 1-4000-4314-X

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2005

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