A wonderful book that deserves a wide audience.

SWEET THUNDER

THE LIFE AND TIMES OF SUGAR RAY ROBINSON

The captivating life of the African-American champion who brought grace and style to the boxing ring in the 1940s and ’50s.

Born Walker Smith Jr. in rural Georgia, Sugar Ray Robinson (1921–89) grew up poor in Detroit and Harlem, where he fought his first amateur fights out of a church boxing club and won the New York Daily News’ Golden Gloves tournament in 1939. With his lightning speed and matador moves, the handsome welterweight created a sensation, earning the monikers “Death Ray” and “Sugar Ray,” which stuck. In this insightful, highly readable biography, Washington Post staff writer Haygood (In Black and White: The Life of Sammy Davis, Jr., 2003, etc.) chronicles the intriguing life of this gifted boxer and dandy, who toured Jim Crow America in World War II with fellow serviceman, and heavyweight champ, Joe Louis; had a long-running feud with fighter Jake LaMotta; and pursued the savage sport that held “a kind of sacredness” for him until 1965, when he retired with 173 wins, 19 losses and six draws. No one ever knocked him out, notes Haygood. All the while, the jazz-loving Robinson ran a popular Harlem nightspot, zipped around Manhattan in a flamingo-colored Cadillac convertible with his midget chauffer, Chico, and hung with leading African-American artists and entertainers. Haygood weaves in stories of the boxer’s ties with Lena Horne, Langston Hughes, Miles Davis and others who emerged in the postwar years in the singular “convergence of men, music, and style” that was celebrated by Arnold Gingrich in Esquire. Surprisingly, there has never been a Sugar Ray biopic, but Haygood’s narrative is chockfull of movie-ready scenes: Robinson challenging military-base segregation; knocking out Killer Jimmy Doyle, who died 17 hours later; touring with Count Basie in an ill-advised nightclub act; being received like a movie star in Europe. Always enigmatic, Robinson was an absent father, had a volatile marriage, went mysteriously AWOL in World War II and wound up near-broke. Sportswriter Red Smith called him “a brooding genius, a darkly dedicated soul who walks in a lonely majesty, a prophet without honor, an artist whom nobody, but nobody, understands.”

A wonderful book that deserves a wide audience.

Pub Date: Oct. 13, 2009

ISBN: 978-1-4000-4497-9

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2009

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The book begins in Sri Lanka with the tsunami of 2004—a horror the author saw firsthand, and the aftermath of which he...

LIVES OTHER THAN MY OWN

The latest from French writer/filmmaker Carrère (My Life as a Russian Novel, 2010, etc.) is an awkward but intermittently touching hybrid of novel and autobiography.

The book begins in Sri Lanka with the tsunami of 2004—a horror the author saw firsthand, and the aftermath of which he describes powerfully. Carrère and his partner, Hélène, then return to Paris—and do so with a mutual devotion that's been renewed and deepened by all they've witnessed. Back in France, Hélène's sister Juliette, a magistrate and mother of three small daughters, has suffered a recurrence of the cancer that crippled her in adolescence. After her death, Carrère decides to write an oblique tribute and an investigation into the ravages of grief. He focuses first on Juliette's colleague and intimate friend Étienne, himself an amputee and survivor of childhood cancer, and a man in whose talkativeness and strength Carrère sees parallels to himself ("He liked to talk about himself. It's my way, he said, of talking to and about others, and he remarked astutely that it was my way, too”). Étienne is a perceptive, dignified person and a loyal, loving friend, and Carrère's portrait of him—including an unexpectedly fascinating foray into Étienne and Juliette's chief professional accomplishment, which was to tap the new European courts for help in overturning longtime French precedents that advantaged credit-card companies over small borrowers—is impressive. Less successful is Carrère's account of Juliette's widower, Patrice, an unworldly cartoonist whom he admires for his fortitude but seems to consider something of a simpleton. Now and again, especially in the Étienne sections, Carrère's meditations pay off in fresh, pungent insights, and his account of Juliette's last days and of the aftermath (especially for her daughters) is quietly harrowing.

Pub Date: Sept. 13, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-8050-9261-5

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Metropolitan/Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: Aug. 11, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2011

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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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