A skillfully written, well-researched account of two difficult, mesmerizing characters.

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RIKO

SEDUCTIONS OF AN ARTIST

This biography tells the story of Czech artist Jan Emmerich “Riko” Mikeska and his wife, Greta Schmied.

When Dailey (Listening to Pakistan, 2013) first met Riko, at a friend’s recommendation, the artist was already 80 years old and nearing the end of his life. “The works of Mikeska give you joy,” summarized an art critic writing in 1936, yet today he’s barely known. Fascinated by Riko’s powerful personality and Greta’s need to tell their story, Dailey began recording their chats and, over 20 years, gathering accounts from the couple’s friends. The saga is amplified with photographs, some in color; curious readers can visit an associated website (https://flic.kr/s/aHsm7mkkSL) for more. Born in the industrial town of Vitkovice, Moravia, in 1903, Riko painted and studied in cities like Vienna, Berlin, and Paris, living mainly in Prague. He married Greta, an artist, illustrator, and teacher, in 1929. With Greta later in danger because of her Jewish ancestry, the couple escaped Prague and the Nazis for Britain. After 10 years in that country, Riko and Greta moved to New York City, where they lived until their deaths (in 1983 and 1998, respectively). Despite Riko’s promising early career, his work gained little notice after he emigrated. Dailey draws out the many captivating strands in Riko’s personality: his skill as a teacher, his ability to win friends, his highly developed sense of injustice, his hatred of self-promotion, and his perfectionism. These last two traits could be self-destructive; he’d overwork paintings, sell them for too little, or refuse to offer them at all, though money was always an issue. Dailey describes all this with verve and insight, as when discussing Riko’s palette. "Riko’s love for André Derain and Maurice de Vlaminck, both leaders of the Fauves movement, was as intense as their colors—pigments unseen (but yearned for) in the chiaroscuro of Riko’s coal-scrimmed youth,” she writes in a nice passage. Greta’s story, too, is well-represented, making this nearly a dual biography: her birth in 1900; her moneyed upbringing, being tutored by the likes of Kafka and Max Brod; her first marriage; and her struggles to earn a living and guard her husband’s legacy.

A skillfully written, well-researched account of two difficult, mesmerizing characters.

Pub Date: Dec. 19, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-99-940690-8

Page Count: 313

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Feb. 20, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2018

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DEAR MR. HENSHAW

Possibly inspired by the letters Cleary has received as a children's author, this begins with second-grader Leigh Botts' misspelled fan letter to Mr. Henshaw, whose fictitious book itself derives from the old take-off title Forty Ways W. Amuse a Dog. Soon Leigh is in sixth grade and bombarding his still-favorite author with a list of questions to be answered and returned by "next Friday," the day his author report is due. Leigh is disgruntled when Mr. Henshaw's answer comes late, and accompanied by a set of questions for Leigh to answer. He threatens not to, but as "Mom keeps nagging me about your dumb old questions" he finally gets the job done—and through his answers Mr. Henshaw and readers learn that Leigh considers himself "the mediumest boy in school," that his parents have split up, and that he dreams of his truck-driver dad driving him to school "hauling a forty-foot reefer, which would make his outfit add up to eighteen wheels altogether. . . . I guess I wouldn't seem so medium then." Soon Mr. Henshaw recommends keeping a diary (at least partly to get Leigh off his own back) and so the real letters to Mr. Henshaw taper off, with "pretend," unmailed letters (the diary) taking over. . . until Leigh can write "I don't have to pretend to write to Mr. Henshaw anymore. I have learned to say what I think on a piece of paper." Meanwhile Mr. Henshaw offers writing tips, and Leigh, struggling with a story for a school contest, concludes "I think you're right. Maybe I am not ready to write a story." Instead he writes a "true story" about a truck haul with his father in Leigh's real past, and this wins praise from "a real live author" Leigh meets through the school program. Mr. Henshaw has also advised that "a character in a story should solve a problem or change in some way," a standard juvenile-fiction dictum which Cleary herself applies modestly by having Leigh solve his disappearing lunch problem with a burglar-alarmed lunch box—and, more seriously, come to recognize and accept that his father can't be counted on. All of this, in Leigh's simple words, is capably and unobtrusively structured as well as valid and realistic. From the writing tips to the divorced-kid blues, however, it tends to substitute prevailing wisdom for the little jolts of recognition that made the Ramona books so rewarding.

Pub Date: Aug. 22, 1983

ISBN: 143511096X

Page Count: 133

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1983

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Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

A LITTLE HISTORY OF POETRY

A light-speed tour of (mostly) Western poetry, from the 4,000-year-old Gilgamesh to the work of Australian poet Les Murray, who died in 2019.

In the latest entry in the publisher’s Little Histories series, Carey, an emeritus professor at Oxford whose books include What Good Are the Arts? and The Unexpected Professor: An Oxford Life in Books, offers a quick definition of poetry—“relates to language as music relates to noise. It is language made special”—before diving in to poetry’s vast history. In most chapters, the author deals with only a few writers, but as the narrative progresses, he finds himself forced to deal with far more than a handful. In his chapter on 20th-century political poets, for example, he talks about 14 writers in seven pages. Carey displays a determination to inform us about who the best poets were—and what their best poems were. The word “greatest” appears continually; Chaucer was “the greatest medieval English poet,” and Langston Hughes was “the greatest male poet” of the Harlem Renaissance. For readers who need a refresher—or suggestions for the nightstand—Carey provides the best-known names and the most celebrated poems, including Paradise Lost (about which the author has written extensively), “Kubla Khan,” “Ozymandias,” “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” Wordsworth and Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads, which “changed the course of English poetry.” Carey explains some poetic technique (Hopkins’ “sprung rhythm”) and pauses occasionally to provide autobiographical tidbits—e.g., John Masefield, who wrote the famous “Sea Fever,” “hated the sea.” We learn, as well, about the sexuality of some poets (Auden was bisexual), and, especially later on, Carey discusses the demons that drove some of them, Robert Lowell and Sylvia Plath among them. Refreshingly, he includes many women in the volume—all the way back to Sappho—and has especially kind words for Marianne Moore and Elizabeth Bishop, who share a chapter.

Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-300-23222-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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