The diary should appeal to readers of Keilson’s fiction but not most general readers.

1944 DIARY

The wartime diary of a celebrated novelist.

When Keilson (The Death of the Adversary, 2011) was in his 30s, he spent a period of time in hiding. In the early 1940s, the writer and psychotherapist fled to the Netherlands with his wife and daughter. But by 1944, the Netherlands had been occupied, and while his non-Jewish wife took their child to live elsewhere, Keilson acquired fake papers and moved in with the Rientsma family. During that period, the author had an affair with a younger Jewish woman, also in hiding, and composed a series of sonnets inspired by the affair; he also wrote fiction and kept a diary. Keilson’s novels were first published in English only a few years ago, to great acclaim. The diary will be of great interest to fans of his fiction. He describes the ups and downs of his passion for Gertrud, his wife, and Hanna, his mistress. Regarding Hanna and the sonnets she inspired, Keilson writes, “I have the feeling of having sucked everything out of her it’s possible to get, like out of a lemon…and then turned it into poetry.” Those sonnets are included in this volume. Searls, Keilson’s capable translator, tells us that the “poems are written in a clipped, tightly coiled German,” with “a wrought, elliptical, intense style.” Unfortunately, those tight coils don’t come across in translation; in English, the poems feel awkward—e.g., the first two lines of the first one: “I son, you daughter, children of one blood, / so bitter ripe for Death in his fierce mowing.” In the diary, Keilson also includes notes on his readings as well as speculation on what life will be like after the war. Surprisingly, he spends little time describing that war and his experience of it. “Meanwhile, heavy fighting in the Netherlands!” he writes, in late September. “Nijmegen, Arnhem!” But then, in the next sentence: “These events, however much they grip me, are no longer my real life.”

The diary should appeal to readers of Keilson’s fiction but not most general readers.

Pub Date: June 6, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-374-53559-9

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: April 2, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2017

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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 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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An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

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The former first lady opens up about her early life, her journey to the White House, and the eight history-making years that followed.

It’s not surprising that Obama grew up a rambunctious kid with a stubborn streak and an “I’ll show you” attitude. After all, it takes a special kind of moxie to survive being the first African-American FLOTUS—and not only survive, but thrive. For eight years, we witnessed the adversity the first family had to face, and now we get to read what it was really like growing up in a working-class family on Chicago’s South Side and ending up at the world’s most famous address. As the author amply shows, her can-do attitude was daunted at times by racism, leaving her wondering if she was good enough. Nevertheless, she persisted, graduating from Chicago’s first magnet high school, Princeton, and Harvard Law School, and pursuing careers in law and the nonprofit world. With her characteristic candor and dry wit, she recounts the story of her fateful meeting with her future husband. Once they were officially a couple, her feelings for him turned into a “toppling blast of lust, gratitude, fulfillment, wonder.” But for someone with a “natural resistance to chaos,” being the wife of an ambitious politician was no small feat, and becoming a mother along the way added another layer of complexity. Throw a presidential campaign into the mix, and even the most assured woman could begin to crack under the pressure. Later, adjusting to life in the White House was a formidable challenge for the self-described “control freak”—not to mention the difficulty of sparing their daughters the ugly side of politics and preserving their privacy as much as possible. Through it all, Obama remained determined to serve with grace and help others through initiatives like the White House garden and her campaign to fight childhood obesity. And even though she deems herself “not a political person,” she shares frank thoughts about the 2016 election.

An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6313-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 30, 2018

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