Intelligent, well-written and scrupulously honest, but off-puttingly self-involved.

MY LIFE AS A RUSSIAN NOVEL

A MEMOIR

French novelist/screenwriter/journalist Carrère (I Am Alive and You Are Dead: A Journey Inside the Mind of Philip K. Dick, 2003, etc.) recalls two fraught years that took him to Siberia and ended a love affair.

Heavy drinking, infidelity, questions about meaning and identity, white nights in the long northern summer—it’s a Russian novel in subject matter, but the author’s approach is decidedly French: minute analysis of each emotional up or down, brutal frankness about his (and others’) less-than-admirable behavior that recalls Flaubert or Stendhal. In 2000, Carrère traveled with a film crew to the provincial town of Kotelnich for a news story that later turned into an open-ended project for the French National Film Commission. Since he had no real plan for the project, he mostly hung around aimlessly with the locals—experiences that are sharply described in the memoir’s least solipsistic scenes—while obsessing over two loose ends in his life. The first was the fate of his grandfather, a Russian immigrant to France who disappeared in 1944, presumably killed in reprisal for collaborating with the Germans. Carrère’s mother, a distinguished French intellectual, begged her son not to write about her shameful father. Believing that she “denied us the right to our suffering,” he did it anyway. This would be less distasteful if the author’s motives didn’t seem to be entirely selfish, which is the impression also created by his account of his tortured relationship with Sophie, the second loose end. The couple had great sex, but everything Carrère writes—including a semi-pornographic story he published in Le Monde, instructing his lover to read it on a train ride and follow its instructions—backs up Sophie’s anguished belief that he was uninterested in her job, her friends and her life, embarrassed by her lower social status and intent on controlling her every move. She had an affair, became pregnant and eventually married another man. Readers will most likely conclude that Carrère deserved Sophie’s payback.

Intelligent, well-written and scrupulously honest, but off-puttingly self-involved.

Pub Date: Aug. 3, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-8050-8755-0

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Metropolitan/Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: June 3, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2010

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?

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

Did you like this book?

more