PositiveForward Reviews... it’s often hard to disentangle the history from the fiction, which may be a marker of Guez’s success ... spare, engrossing ... Guez’s third-person narration tells the story mostly from Mengele’s point of view, which can be tough and unpleasant to inhabit. Occasionally, Guez offers slight relief by veering into the perspectives of other characters ... In South America, Mengele is sustained — sometimes enthusiastically but often barely and begrudgingly — by a network of unrepentant Nazis and Nazi sympathizers, fueled by funds from his prosperous family. Guez’s description of this insidious network, with its mix of true believers and opportunists, is one of the novel’s most interesting aspects ... Guez humanizes Mengele, perhaps controversially, by describing his love, or at least passion, for his wives, the second of whom was his brother’s widow. He also describes the doctor’s regard for his Brazilian housekeeper and his desire to justify himself to his son. In the end, though, the novel portrays Mengele as a thoroughly despicable character, who came to a miserable — if not miserable enough — end.
RaveForwardThe impact of the pogroms has been muted to some extent by the even more powerful trauma of the Holocaust — and by the overwhelming desire of many survivors to move on and embrace their new American lives...Brahin, a Jewish genealogist and researcher, confronts that silence in her family history, Tears Over Russia...Starting with her grandmother’s recollections, she has produced a remarkably vivid account of life in the Old Country that reads at times like a novel — or a series of Sholem Aleichem stories — with matchmakers racking up both triumphs and disasters and marauding thugs imperiling Jewish villagers...The parallels are deliberate...Aspects of Tears Over Russia have a mythic quality, with larger-than-life characters surmounting impossible circumstances...At the core of the narrative is a series of interviews Brahin conducted with Channa (Americanized to \'Anne\'), who lived from 1912 to 2003...Brahin delves deep into family history, recounting her great-grandparents’ tumultuous on-and-off romance...Mostly, though, her American story is a happy one...She wins beauty contests, becomes a table tennis champion, and enjoys a 66-year marriage that produces a daughter, Marcy...And a granddaughter, Lisa Brahin, who makes sense — whatever sense is possible — of a life marked by terrifying trials and ultimate survival.
Kermit Roosevelt III
RaveThe Pennsylvania GazetteThe Nation That Never Was is similarly concerned with the American community’s insiders and outsiders...But it focuses almost entirely on slavery, segregation, and other manifestations of anti-Black racism...(The oppression of Asian Americans, other ethnic groups, and sexual minorities scarcely merits a mention. The longtime exclusion of women from suffrage is noted, but no more. Other aspects of women’s struggle for full legal equality with men—including reproductive rights—aren’t covered at all.)...In both his adoption of the rhetoric of anti-racism and his sympathy for the New York Times’s controversial 1619 Project, which insists on slavery’s centrality to US history, Roosevelt is in tune with prevailing ideological currents...His argument is nuanced and, at times, complex...But it can be summarized simply...Americans, he says, have been taught specific readings of the Declaration of Independence, the American Revolution, and what he calls the Founders’ Constitution...But that \'standard story,\' he maintains, is neither accurate nor useful...In fact, its distortion of the past has been downright harmful...The standard story, in Roosevelt’s view, posits that equality and liberty were always at the core of American beliefs...It regards slavery—and, by extension, other forms of oppression and discrimination—as an aberration, destined to be corrected gradually over time...According to this argument, the Revolution was fought for ideals enshrined in the Declaration of Independence...And the Constitution, albeit an imperfect compromise jerry-rigged to satisfy Southern states, was the vehicle that codified those ideals...The work of redefinition that Roosevelt outlines remains unfinished...Neither Lincoln’s assertion of democratic principles nor the Reconstruction amendments achieved lasting racial parity...A second Reconstruction, in the form of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts of the 1960s, was necessary, Roosevelt reminds us—and it, too, has fallen short.
PositiveThe Boston Globe... intermittently gripping ... meticulous ... Sullivan describes the Cold Case Team’s interdisciplinary methods, from criminal profiling, historical research and crowdsourcing to a Microsoft artificial intelligence program that found connections within a blizzard of archival documents. But the book is most engrossing as a portrait of wartime Amsterdam, a city of conflicting and cross-cutting loyalties, where personal peril could erase the line between heroism and villainy ... Then she painstakingly escorts us down various blind alleys that the investigative team pursued, as it whittled 30 theories down to a dozen possible scenarios. Sullivan details and debunks some of these at length ... How much readers care about these dead-ends will depend on both their investment in the Anne Frank saga and their patience. Sullivan’s meandering narrative can be tedious when it focuses on the mystery’s many red herrings ... Sullivan’s dissection of Nazi-occupied Amsterdam’s labyrinthine ethical byways—and how genocidal war produced moral rot—may be a greater contribution than the true-crime story that inspired the project.
RaveForwardHis immersive account—which also sheds light on the attack’s antecedents, historical context, and especially its geographic setting—is granular in its detail, emotionally intimate and often moving ... Oppenheimer’s narrative is a mosaic of stories told from the perspective of various characters ... The opening chapters...are particularly intense and affecting ... Oppenheimer’s dense reporting concentrates on the year following the massacre. But any ending is, of course, merely a literary contrivance ... For the foreseeable future, Squirrel Hill’s story—of grief, trauma and resilience—will continue.
RaveThe Forward... page-turning ... The history in question is all too familiar: World War II brings the Soviet invasion, with all its social upheavals, and then the even more brutal Nazi one. We know what will follow, or think we do. What distinguishes Into the Forest is the granularity and vividness of its storytelling – the product, in part, of Frankel’s close personal connection to her characters.
PositiveThe Boston Globe[Donner] brings forensic and literary skills—along with access to family papers and a key witness—to a story at once deeply personal and broadly inspiring ... Donner writes mostly in the present tense, breaks her story into short takes, and employs a novelist’s toolkit to set scenes and imagine her characters’ thoughts. Some might prefer a more conventional narrative—the story surely is interesting enough without such gimmickry. But the devices do serve both to immerse readers in the rush of history and paper over evidentiary gaps. The book’s limits reflect the limits of historical knowledge Heath’s story, though historically marginal, looms large in the book. Other fascinating characters parade through its pages.
PositiveThe Boston GlobeWriting with passion and novelistic license, Batalion takes readers deep into the psyches of these women ... Batalion’s research is prodigious, and her dedication to her story obvious and moving. But the book’s very scope—its huge cast of characters, geographical sweep, and mix of chronological and thematic organization—may deter less committed readers. Another challenge is Batalion’s insistence on depicting the pointillist horrors of the genocide ... When Batalion unsparingly describes the bloodbaths in the ghetto streets, or descends into the sadistic hell of Nazi prisons, the temptation is to turn away. These brave women could not.
RaveThe Forward... with smart, elegant prose, he manages to construct an engrossing chronicle of his foray into an elusive past. His narrative is wonderfully digressive, laced with coincidences and ambiguities, and filled with just enough revelations to keep readers contentedly turning pages ... Of course, this is not exactly the family history Kaiser had been seeking. His own grandfather remains inaccessible, a historical cipher. His struggle to reclaim the contested building is similarly frustrating. As of his publication deadline, his court case, plagued by errors and delays, was still ongoing, with no resolution in sight. Lamenting that he lacks the inventive freedom of a novelist, Kaiser makes the best of his limitations and failures.
Yaniv Iczkovits, trans. by Orr Schar
PositiveThe ForwardIczkovits draws on the conventions of black comedy, the picaresque, and the fable to tell the story of a quest packed with improbable characters and events ... translated beautifully from the Hebrew by Orr Scharf ... Novak’s trajectory and Fanny’s will, inevitably, collide, with unexpected results. Not every heroic act is rewarded, and tragedy is barely averted. And Iczkovits, like the reader, knows that there is no ultimate happy ending.
MixedThe Boston GlobeHertz’s perspective is broad—provocatively so. She intentionally conflates the angst of individual solitude with political alienation, social atomization, and economic marginalization ... To Hertz, loneliness is, in large part, an artifact of harsh, unrestrained capitalism—what she confusingly calls \'neoliberalism\' ... Her idealism peaks in her push for people to connect across political and geographic divides. The recommendation, however well-intentioned, exposes the fault lines in her expansive definition of loneliness. Could trying to talk politics, or even the most anodyne of topics, with a die-hard Trump supporter ease the ache of a Democrat on a lonely Saturday night? It seems doubtful—a mismatch between problem and solution. Most of Hertz’s program, in any case, will have to await the return of normalcy, or whatever passes for it.
RaveForward... lovely ... The panoramic ambition, scope and complexity of City of a Thousand Gates is embodied in its Cast of Characters – 32 in all, in nine distinct groupings. The third-person narration offers a mosaic of perspectives, shifting fluidly, but without much change in voice or style, from character to character ... The novel’s juxtapositions and coincidences surprise without shocking. Sacks writes with a generosity and gentleness at odds with her troubling subject matter ... Sacks writes explicit sex scenes, celebrating compatibility, experimentation and, more ambivalently, the excitement inherent in power imbalances and self-abandon ... Despite its profusion of characters, City of a Thousand Gates is too gracefully written to grow sluggish. A tighter focus might arguably have made for an even better book – perhaps a deeper character study, a more propulsive plot. But Sacks’ craft, especially her mastery of language and pacing, is impressive. Having lived in Tel Aviv and reported from both Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, she seems to have captured the authentic texture of these metropolises, and of the clashing cultures she depicts ... hardly a conventional thriller. Nor is its patient humanism — its compassion for the many flawed people who inhabit its contested landscape – startlingly original or transgressive. What is thrilling is to see how cleverly Sacks fits the puzzle pieces of her narrative together, linking all those lives with far fewer than six degrees of separation between them.
PositiveThe Boston Globe... highly readable ... a largely admiring portrait of a protean, prodigiously gifted woman that stops short of hagiography ... One of the great virtues of Holladay’s narrative is how skillfully it integrates jargon-free textual analysis of the poetry and uses it to trace Rich’s personal and political metamorphoses. While Rich is most familiar as the lesbian feminist of the 1970s, Holladay also makes the case for her later political poetry and her efforts to wrestle with her Jewish identity, ambivalently bequeathed to her by her father.
RaveThe Boston Globe... an absorbing and meticulously crafted page-turner ... Miller dissects their union and its tragic aftermath with both deep sympathy and forensic detachment ... Miller’s subject is not just grief or marriage, though she delves profoundly into both. She’s also intrigued by the mystery of human personality, shaped by the past, but sometimes able to transcend it ... She depicts both her characters and their Cambridge environs with such tenderness and precision that many readers will feel regret when Miller’s story, like life itself, reaches its inevitable end.
PositiveThe Forward... another poignant entry in the early-onset Alzheimer’s canon. The book intimately explores both the ravages of the disease and its impacts on family members and other caregivers. And...it finds some relief from despair in the redemptive power of love ... As characters, both Arlo and Linda seem impossibly quirky—at times, downright annoying. But Pru’s devotion to her husband, even as his deficits balloon, is touching and tenderly depicted, the emotional heart of the story.
PositiveThe Boston Globe... Doherty’s elegantly composed account of this circle, with its camaraderie and occasional rivalries, doubles as an affectionate — if not entirely uncritical — homage to the institute itself ... While sketching the historical context, Doherty writes most passionately about the texture of the women’s friendships — above all, the well-documented intimacy between the flamboyant, needy Sexton and the more formal and reserved Kumin ... After their Radcliffe idyll ended, the friendships were attenuated by time, distance, and other strains. So, too, Doherty’s narrative — merging history, group biography, and literary criticism — becomes more diffuse, ranging quickly over the turbulent terrain of the late 1960s and beyond.
RaveForward... gorgeous ... a deeply loving, occasionally irreverent portrait of the artist. It’s also something of a paean to friendship itself. At this time of disconnection and disorientation, Taylor reminds us of the anchoring power of human connection ... Taylor captures Roth’s idiosyncrasies.
PositiveThe Boston GlobeThe book’s blurb billing it as a \'self-portrait\' is somewhat misleading. Illuminating History is not an intellectual memoir, but rather a miscellany — a collection of sometimes fascinating, often arcane historical essays, written in Bailyn’s elegant but orotund style ... In the end, Illuminating History is not so much a fully satisfying intellectual repast as a series of historiographical amuses-bouche. Its main value lies in whetting the appetite for a richer diet of the works of a great American historian.
Esther Safran Foer
MixedThe Boston GlobeAs the events themselves recede, the rich literature of second- and third-generation Holocaust memoirs continues to grow. But the terrain it charts — including the inevitable journey back to the Old Country to find traces of a vanished world and mourn the dead — has become increasingly familiar. Foer’s rambling, repetitive narrative, marred by pedestrian prose and a profusion of mundane details, is, at best, a minor contribution to this burgeoning genre ... Foer also cites an idea, which she credits to Columbia University professor Marianne Hirsch, that \'inherited memories — traumatic fragments of events — defy narrative reconstruction.\' Foer’s disjointed memoir, with its abrupt time shifts and obsessive recitation of the names of the dead, seems to exemplify that dictum.
PositiveChicago TribuneAlex Beam offers a readable, concise account of the disputatious construction of the Farnsworth House ... Beam’s book calls to mind Franklin Toker’s fine 2003 cultural history, Fallingwater Rising, on Wright, Pittsburgh department store magnate E.J. Kaufmann, and the creation of that domestic masterpiece ... Beam, steeped in the record, is fair-minded in recreating this complicated battle ... But Beam’s dedication, \'To Edith,\' seems to indicate where his sympathies lie.
PositiveThe Boston Globe... contributes a new perspective and details to an already massive literature, but no earth-shattering revelations ... The time lag does afford some advantages. Riding the crest of the #MeToo movement, Wine-Banks describes the mostly workaday sexism she encountered on the job. Reflecting the contemporary penchant for soul-baring, she depicts her sexually unsatisfying and psychologically abusive marriage, a clandestine love affair, and a happy second marriage to her high school beau ... raises questions, particularly about her disastrous first marriage, which it never fully answers. But the book’s fast-moving narrative and crisp prose should hook readers.
MixedThe Boston Globe... offers a much fuller account of Peter’s life (and Zimmerman\'s), and it reports on the factors — including depression, work stress, and competitive consumerism — that fuel white-collar addiction ... reads like an amalgam of two different books. The first, recounting Zimmerman’s love story, her marriage, the subsequent divorce, and Peter’s gradual deterioration, is an engrossing narrative laden with elements of pathos and mystery ... both warning and self-help, a preventative against future tragedies. But it falls short — perhaps inevitably — of illuminating the complex, seemingly unfathomable psychology of Peter’s addiction ... What is missing, through no fault of Zimmerman’s, is Peter’s own voice — specifically, his testimony about how his dependence on drugs, from opioids to speed and cocaine, started, and how and why it got out of hand ... Zimmerman manages to end this poignant tale on a gently positive note.
RaveThe Boston GlobeAdam Kay’s blisteringly funny memoir of his British medical apprenticeship, This Is Going to Hurt, leaves you thinking that Kay missed his true calling, as a comedy writer ... a staccato series of wry anecdotes and punch lines. The brief diary entries offer a view of humanity, as well as medicine, in all its glorious imperfection. But they also point cumulatively to a systemic critique. They chronicle how, over time, a dedicated and gifted physician can be ground down by the profession’s unnecessarily brutal demands ... a boon for comedy.
RaveForward... lovely ... Brilliantly translated ... an intensely clever literary construction that never compromises readability. The title evokes the idea of a series of reflections that, like a mirror to history, offer clues to Blum’s identity and the circumstances that brought him to Israel. The water of the canals becomes a conduit to the past, or at least to the world of the imagination ... More elegant than the mystery itself is Elon’s technique, as her novel seems both to anticipate and then merge with the novel Blum is writing about his family’s wartime ordeals.
Annette Hess, Trans. by Elisabeth Lauffer
MixedThe Boston Globe... intermittently intriguing ... It’s of interest mostly as a 21st-century perspective on the proceedings, as well as a recent entry in the growing catalog of internal reckonings ... [Hess\'s] emphasis on repression and the complicated relationship between postwar German youth and their complicit elders is reminiscent of Bernhard Schlink’s far more elegant novel, The Reader ... both [Hess\'s] third-person narrative, with its frequently switching points of view, and her prose style (at least in translation) are somewhat clunky. Her symbolism — the recurrent motif of fire and ashes, the berry stains resembling blood, the washing of dirty linens — seems heavy-handed, and her characterizations improbable or sketchy. Still, Hess is sufficiently adept at pacing and plot twists, however unlikely, to persuade readers to turn the page ... isn’t the most sure-footed of novels. But it’s an interesting artifact of Germany’s ongoing cultural response to the 20th-century’s most heinous criminal enterprise.
RaveForwardRejecting the binary of victim and perpetrator, Dekel finds complexity in relationships shaped by changing material conditions as well as prejudice. Encountering a succession of guides, hosts and witnesses, reliable and less so, she explores the lingering traces—and denial—of the past in the present ... The book begins slowly as Dekel explains its origins and rationale, then pauses to thumbnail Iran’s evolving attitudes toward Jews. But the narrative momentum increases as her family—and, decades later, Dekel herself—begins hurtling from country to country ... Tehran Children is a yeoman accomplishment, a skillfully wrought bridge between past and present that raises critical questions about both.
PositiveThe Boston Globe... engaging ... Written with the cooperation of the estate, clear-eyed affection, and considerable stylistic flair, Still Here, offers an intimate, somewhat open-ended portrait of Stritch that leaves intact, perhaps inevitably, the mysteries of her personality, her sexuality, and her relationship to alcohol.
PositiveForwardSkillfully written and reported, it will seem familiar in parts to readers of Nagorski or other accounts of the work of the U.S. Justice Department’s Office of Special Investigations (OSI) ... Cenziper burrows, perhaps more than necessary, into the private lives of these historians. Her narrative is more rewarding when she recounts the travails of Feliks Wojcik and Lucyna Stryjewska, Jewish teenagers who fell in love in the Lublin ghetto and survived through a series of harrowing escapes and lucky breaks ... Cenziper’s account moves cinematically around in time and place, a narrative sleight of hand that mostly works.
PositiveForward... [a] page-and-stomach-turning account ... If you followed Farrow’s reporting and other media accounts, some of the revelations in Catch and Kill will seem familiar ... But Farrow’s book – as riveting as any spy thriller and, according to Farrow, rigorously fact-checked – puts these puzzle pieces together, illuminating a web of complicity among the connected, powerful and guilty that would put a typical paranoid fantasy to shame ... is, in many ways, horrifyingly grim – a nightmare confirmation of the worst in human nature and the entangled upper echelons of the media and political worlds. But, as Farrow has noted in interviews, it also admits some rays of hope.
Carmen Maria Machado
RaveThe Boston Globe... this is a stunning book, both deeply felt and elegantly written ... [Machado\'s] digressive use of myth, literary, and cinematic archetypes and queer history does complicate the narrative. But it never dispels its momentum ... And though the relationship she chronicles, often with graphic candor, is indeed dark, her prose is exhilarating and precise. As a bonus, the story veers unexpectedly, albeit with some foreshadowing, toward a happy ending (even as she interrogates the very notion of endings).
PositiveForwardBerenson’s achievement in The Accusation is to contextualize the Massena blood libel in multiple provocative ways. Berenson offers a concise history of the origins of the blood libel in Europe, as well as its modern recurrences ... the resulting consequences for Jews makes for horrifying reading.
Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey
RaveForwardDon’t look to Kantor and Twohey for philosophical theorizing or big-picture historical thinking. They’re too deep in the trenches for that. What they’ve given us instead is a fascinating, fluidly written primer on how they conducted their ground-breaking, Pulitzer Prize-winning reporting on movie producer Harvey Weinstein and his alleged campaign of sexual terror, manipulation and intimidation ... very much a process book. It should be required reading in journalism programs for its insights into how reportorial grit and savvy can crack walls of denial – especially when neither time nor money is (much) at issue ... Though mostly written with cool-eyed detachment, the book is a stark, old-fashioned tale of heroism and villainy.
MixedChicago Tribune... engrossing but imperfect ... Strout’s world view emerges in plain-spoken, sometimes elegant, third-person prose ... The darkness of Strout’s vision is leavened by her belief in moments of grace, which may arrive in a slant of light, a sudden insight, or (best of all) a connection to another human being ... Nothing in Olive Kitteridge seemed extraneous. But when Olive, Again shifts away from its central characters, the linked-story technique begins to seem tiresome, even superfluous. Who are all these other people, we wonder, and why can’t we just get back to Olive and Jack and their fascinatingly flawed romance?
PositiveThe Chicago Tribune... a skillfully wrought, often mesmerizing novel-in-stories ... Caputo excels at descriptions of nature, which his characters experience variously as sublime, indifferent or hostile. But his deeper subject is the vagaries of human nature, especially in the case of the male of the species. The wildness of Caputo’s woods — which teem with bears, wolves, icy rivers and other hazards — finds an analogy in the wilderness of the human soul ... It’s a familiar trope, to be sure. But these stories, written in a succinctly lyrical prose and punctuated by a sense of unease, still seem fresh and surprising.
PositiveThe Boston GlobeIn Beneath the Tamarind Tree, the award-winning CNN journalist Isha Sesay offers the most intimate portrait yet of what happened to the Chibok girls between abduction and rescue ... The book’s most gripping sections relate the hardships the girls endured ... Sesay’s own odyssey, though somewhat self-congratulatory, is also riveting—a primer on the hazards and challenges of reporting in a country embroiled in insurrection, with a government suspicious of aggressive media coverage. The writing in Beneath the Tamarind Tree occasionally veers toward the melodramatic. But Sesay has done yeoman work in earning the trust of the girls, enabling her to recount their experiences with rare empathy.
John Paul Stevens
MixedThe Chicago Tribune... has indisputable historical value. But it turns out that neither a penchant for legal analysis nor an equable judicial temperament guarantees a gripping narrative ... Though occasionally outspoken about the court, Stevens is often reticent about the rest of his life. His first wife, Elizabeth Jane Sheeren, merits only a mention or two before disappearing entirely from the narrative ... It’s probably unreasonable to expect a truly gossipy memoir from a former Supreme Court justice. Still, Stevens’ evident regard for his colleagues across the ideological spectrum is notable.
PositiveThe Chicago TribuneOne of Hemon’s calling cards is formal experimentation. The new project joins two discrete but complementary works of nonfiction. This Does Not Belong to You is essentially a series of outtakes from the family memoir — short prose pieces and prose poems leavened by philosophical musings. They evoke a childhood filled with mischief and casual schoolyard violence, as well as scholastic success and the heartbreak of first love. Occasionally, Hemon will draw harsh lessons from these piecemeal recollections...But mostly he wants to validate memory as an antidote to both exile and mortality — even if memory itself is necessarily faulty. \'(W)hat I remember now are the stories of memories that might have been the memories of stories,\' he says, a warning, once again, not to follow him too far into the labyrinth.
RaveChicago TribuneThe Tenth Muse, Chung’s second novel, is an elegant and absorbing fiction, an interlocking set of stories within a complex narrative that never seems convoluted ... Chung’s crystalline prose and narrative control make the loops easy to follow ... Her work radiates a love of the subject [math]. Nevertheless, math would seem to be unpromising territory for fiction. After all, the discipline’s proofs and problems are all but impossible to explain to a non-specialist ... She uses mathematics mostly as metaphor. Her real subject, beyond the magic of storytelling, is the problem of identity, as shaped by gender, ethnicity, history and choice.
MixedChicago Tribune[The book] underline[s] that history is always a work in progress, as perspectives change, memories dim or crystallize, emotions cool, and new facts emerge over time ... Tell...can be repetitive and rambling, and his arguments are too often obscured by a welter of detail and academic jargon. But he does help elucidate the commercial and ideological underpinnings of the Delta’s often competing memorials, as well as the white-supremacist context that doomed Till ... The overarching, perhaps overgeneralized thesis of Remembering Emmett Till is that commemoration cannot be understood without reference to both race and geography ... [Tell] argues, more convincingly, that the stories he relates \'reveal a world of controversy, patronage, nepotism, and enduring racism lurking just behind the surface of placid historical markers\' ... Remembering Emmett Till is best read in conjunction with...some other, more linear history.
PositiveThe Boston Globe... is reminiscent of Okrent’s Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition (2010) in its elegant, if sometimes dense, prose and its focus on the unlikely alliances that converged to effect political change. But with its gallery of scientifically dubious, mean-spirited, and flat-out racist characters (so many they become difficult to distinguish), the current book is a much grimmer enterprise.
PositiveChicago Tribune\"... ambitious ... a fascinating hybrid ... Packer, an economical and often elegant writer, interweaves these stories, told in short takes, with reporting on distinctive American locales ... a richly complex narrative brew ... Don\'t read The Unwinding expecting either grand epiphanies or nuts-and-bolts solutions to America\'s problems — only graceful writing and modest faith that a few dreamers and strivers among us may lead the way to a better future.\
PositiveThe Chicago TribuneHemon can amuse and he can devastate. That he does both in his second language, wielded with precision and elegance, has earned him comparisons to Nabokov and Joseph Conrad ... Sometimes sketchy, characteristically idiosyncratic and sardonic, nearly always engaging, [the essays] constitute an impressionistic overview of Hemon\'s lives in both his native Sarajevo and his adopted city of Chicago ... Admirers of Hemon\'s fiction will welcome the avowed factuality of The Book of My Lives for the additional insight it offers into the author\'s backstory and motivations ... Hemon invites readers to savor both his émigré triumphs and his émigré pain — an invitation worth seizing.
MixedForwardSwift-paced and concise ...[Nadell\'s] task is an ambitious one. In America’s Jewish Women, she sets out to compose a social, political, labor and cultural history covering more than three centuries. The price of the book’s sweep is often superficiality. It’s a primer, not the last word on the subject.
PositiveForward\"... [a] short, elegant comic novel ... A quick read, with a series of mostly predictable but still enjoyable twists ... Englander’s prose is always sprightly. He makes it easy to turn the page, and he supplies a happy ending of sorts, endorsing the values of duty, family and self-sacrifice. But given the abundant challenges posed by both traditional religion and the digital marvels of our age, the novel also sounds a cautionary note. Perhaps, Englander seems to suggest, it helps to temper even the deepest faith with skepticism.\
MixedChicago Tribune\"Even granting its biographical fecundity, Leader’s deep-dive literary criticism interrupts and weighs down his otherwise fast-paced narrative. Meticulous and larded with quotes, it is less compelling than the first-hand testimony of those who lived with, loved and sometimes hated Bellow ... [Bellow\'s surviving wives\' and childrens\'] emotional recollections render Volume II — even more so than Volume I — \'painfully intimate,\' in Philip Roth’s words... revelatory...\
Elliott J. Gorn
PositiveThe Chicago Tribune... underline[s] that history is always a work in progress, as perspectives change, memories dim or crystallize, emotions cool, and new facts emerge over time ... an elegant account of Till’s life and death, the trial, and its cultural after-effects.
PositiveChicago Tribune\"The best of the short pieces in The End of the End of the Earth is the title essay, which braids Franzen’s memories of his beloved Uncle Walt with an account of a luxury expedition to Antarctica with his brother ... Franzen’s glimpses of global birds often are similarly fleeting [to the grace in certain stories]. He compulsively keeps annual lists of his avian sightings ... Beyond his lists, Franzen is stirred by birds — their haunting mix of grandeur, fragility and exquisite adaptability. He is disturbed by climate change, but more so by the pressing human threats to their existence ... [Franzen] is at his best when he lets down his guard and allows a hint of genuine emotion to pierce his cool intellectuality.\
Bart Van Es
PositiveThe ForwardIn this graceful memoir, van Es artfully intertwines two narrative threads, telling Lien’s story and his own, as he struggles to discover the specific reasons for the breach—and to heal it. He bridges the complexities of his account with writing that is fluid and clear, and readers will find themselves swept along on his journey ... The somewhat awkward title—The Cut Out Girl—evokes Lien’s excision from Dutch society, her feelings of isolation and her eventual estrangement from the van Esses. The author situates Lien’s misadventures within the turbulent political landscape of the Netherlands, where currents of courage and resistance flowed alongside cowardice, collaboration and anti-Semitism.
MixedThe ForwardSmyth, a professor of history at the University of Warwick and the author or editor of several previous books on film, has an interesting story to tell about the underreported contributions of women during the Hollywood studio system’s heyday ... But Smyth’s view is that the much maligned studio era, rather than being (mainly) a time of enforced servitude and gender inequities, was something of a Golden Age for women’s opportunities—especially in comparison with the conservative decades that followed ... Smyth does best when she moves in for a close-up ... Smyth is not a particularly skilled storyteller. Too often, in lieu of color and anecdote, she proffers long lists of now obscure women who populated the studios’ production ranks.
Scott W. Stern
RaveThe Boston GlobeIt’s a shattering story. In his detailed, occasionally dense narrative, Stern (a 2015 Yale graduate who began his research in college) inculpates not just sexism and puritanical sexual policing, but racism, classism, xenophobia—and capitalism itself ... The emotional heart of the book, drawn in part from trial transcripts, is an account of how McCall, a small-town Michigan woman of Canadian and Scottish heritage, transformed herself from victim to resister ... The Trials of Nina McCall suggests that, in the face of misogyny and fear, the Constitution’s civil liberties and due process protections are flimsier than we dare acknowledge.
Andrew Lloyd Webber
RaveThe Barnes & Noble ReviewFrom a literary standpoint, Lloyd Webber’s memoir, published in connection with his seventieth birthday, is something of a mess. It is sprawling and overlong, formally inelegant, at once needlessly detailed and riddled with lacunae ... Unmasked mostly compensates for its self-indulgence with a sprightly tone, a high gossip quotient, and, best of all, a sense of authenticity. Readers gain entrée to Lloyd Webber’s sensibility — neuroses, obsessions, vanity, and all — and to a turbulent backstage world in which his perfectionism about sound quality sometimes collides with the practicalities of making theater ... This idiosyncratic memoir will delight his many fans, provide invaluable grist for theater historians — and perhaps inspire an even grittier and more revealing sequel.
PositiveThe Barnes & Noble ReviewRelying on extant letters and the inventive use of other sources, her mostly chronological narrative reinterprets these women’s lives through a feminist lens and tries to distinguish between the factual and the speculative ... Kerrison devotes considerable attention to her education, not the most bracing of topics. More interesting is the author’s take on Martha’s abortive courtships and the manner in which Martha’s discussions with friends may have prepared her for the 'serious business' of marriage ... Using the limited available records, Kerrison tracks a series of Harriets, with various surnames, through the years. It’s a prodigious undertaking, and the reader is likely to share the excitement of the chase.
PositiveThe Chicago TribuneScutts is a fluid writer. But the history she relates seems at once familiar and diffuse. The Extra Woman reacquaints us with the feisty movie star heroines of the 1930s, the wartime rise of Rosie the Riveter, the 1950s retreat into domesticity and 'gender extremism,' and the first stirrings of second-wave feminism. These are stories we have heard before, but Scutts does excavate some curiosities ... the most interesting aspect of Scutts’ project, as well as its unifying thread, is the story of Hillis herself.
PositiveThe Chicago TribuneGrigoriadis admires the new generation of activists who are drawing attention to nonconsensual sex and the culture of 'toxic masculinity' that supports it. But she also expresses compassion for a subset of the young men accused by these women, seeing them as a second set of victim ... The book has a discursive quality and seems bloated, in need of a tighter edit. But Grigoriadis does succeed in depicting the ambiguities that exist around changing gender norms, the attempts of colleges to adjudicate them and the ways she'd like to see both evolve ... In such a fluid cultural environment, where today's certainties are tomorrow's taboos, it's difficult to produce a definitive book on the subject of campus sexual assault. But credit Grigoriadis with a fair-minded and informative try.
RaveThe Boston GlobeIt is difficult not to view Masha Gessen’s The Future is History through the scrim of concerns about Russian tampering in the recent US presidential election ...its interest and reason for being extend beyond our national preoccupations to broader questions about the power of history and the malleability and resilience of the human psyche ...is several books in one, a complexity that accounts for its weaknesses and its strengths ... an intimate nonfiction narrative that shows how individuals are buffeted by the forces of history and, to a lesser extent, help shape those forces through (for example) protest, political involvement, and journalism.
PositiveThe Chicago Tribune\"The main question with which he grapples in this finely written and reported (but overlong) memoir is why his law-abiding cousin chose to commit a criminal act ... Determined to investigate, Blum finds it hard to get consistent answers from his cousin. So, in a surprising narrative twist, he seeks out Sommer, whom Alex\'s testimony had helped convict. The robbery\'s ringleader may well be a classic psychopath, but it\'s hard to know for sure. He and the Rangers both \'dressed up violence in myth and ritual\' and \'normalized killing, bloodthirstiness, ruthlessness, and domination,\' Blum writes. In any case, Blum\'s conversations with the smart, seductive Sommer shed doubt on Alex\'s version of events.\
Danielle S. Allen
PositiveThe Chicago TribuneIn writing about her cousin, Allen is also elegizing other black men victimized by poverty, drugs and unequal justice. Her blend of personal anguish and social consciousness evokes not just Wideman, but Jesmyn Ward's 2013 memoir, Men We Reaped, about the close friends and relatives Ward lost to untimely and often violent deaths ... There's an inevitable tension between statistics and an individual life gone wrong, between what seems fated and the bad choices that comprise that fate. The gap between Allen and her cousin — bridged at times by love — reflects the growing chasm between black men, more likely to end up in a prison cell or a grave, and black women, better bets for higher education and employment.
RaveThe Chicago Tribune...[a] masterwork of psychological fiction ... Messud teases readers with a psychological mystery, withholding information and then cannily parceling it out.
PositiveThe Chicago Tribune...a wry, gently meandering narrative that strains to find deeper meaning in a tale of love gone awry ... Hesse pads American Fire with chapters on the crime of arson and various pairs of criminals, including Bonnie and Clyde and Leopold and Loeb. But as she zooms in on the two lovers, their deteriorating relationship, Bundick's troubled past, and their capture and interrogation, her discursive narrative becomes more engrossing.
RaveThe Boston GlobeThat the Shahids are, to some extent, using Nora quickly becomes apparent. But Nora, so frankly needy, is easy prey … Given her vulnerability, it is no surprise that her sacrifices will mount, until her gains threaten to become losses … The power of self-deception is one of the key themes of The Woman Upstairs. Nora projects onto the Shahids a lifetime of thwarted hopes. Forget those painstakingly constructed dioramas: Turning these deeply flawed foreigners into fairy-tale saviors is by far Nora’s greatest imaginative feat.
Anders Rydell, trans. by Henning Koch
MixedThe Chicago TribuneWhat the subtitle calls 'the race to return a literary inheritance' is surely a misnomer, given the excruciatingly slow and erratic nature of the process. The Book Thieves can be similarly plodding as it meanders idiosyncratically through the byways of biography and cultural history. But Rydell's passion for the subject is undeniable. Serving as a courier, he manages to convey the emotional power of returning even a single book to a grateful descendant who has lost so much else.
Daniel J. Sharfstein
PositiveThe Chicago TribuneThe great achievement of Sharfstein's chronicle of the specific tragedy of the Nez Perce is to render this past both vivid and newly painful ... The first third or so of Thunder in the Mountains is meandering and expository. But in describing the Nez Perce's battle-pocked flight east, across mountains and rivers and toward potential freedom in Canada, Sharfstein's narrative becomes intimate, propulsive and ultimately heart-breaking ... serve[s] as both a compassionate military history and a shrewd examination of how cultural legends are created.
PanThe Boston GlobeDespite some intriguing byways, the book as a whole seems padded and ungainly — an awkward conflation of literary memoir and cultural criticism that is probably too self-indulgently academic and idiosyncratic to engage the general reader. Choosing her female subjects with apparent randomness, Elkin ropes together vastly different enterprises ... Elkin devotes the bulk of two chapters to protest and revolutionary movements in Paris — on the assumption that marching is another manifestation of walking. Here, as elsewhere, she voyages far afield and distorts the organizing notion of the flâneuse, whose walking is not generally in the service of some larger cause. From forays into cultural criticism Elkin can turn on a dime to memoir. Scenes, events, and observations from her restlessly peripatetic life thread through the book, sometimes intrusively, but also too sketchily ... Perhaps the best way to appreciate Flâneuse is as a formal embodiment of the concept it struggles to define. From that perspective, the intellectual meandering and genre-crossing nature of her enterprise can be seen as a clever riff on flâneuserie — not simply an exhausting literary slog.
RaveThe Boston GlobeFrance’s follow-up book of the same name provides a more nuanced take on the same events. Substantial and elegantly written, it is at once a deeply reported (if New York-centric) AIDS history and an intimate memoir that makes clear the author’s stake in the story.
PositiveThe Chicago TribuneIn Germany, stories of such ruptures have long been integral to the political discourse. They are more unusual in this country. Forty Autumns, Willner's meticulous and compassionate family memoir, is a powerful addition to the genre ... Forty Autumns has one notable omission: It offers only the sketchiest information on the family's stance and situation during the Nazi years.
Blanche Wiesen Cook
PositiveThe Chicago TribuneCook fleshes out the generally accepted perception of Roosevelt as more progressive than her husband, more eager to preserve the best of the New Deal (even as war loomed) and to foster a more egalitarian and inclusive society ... For the most part, Cook skims quickly through Eleanor's later years, almost as though tiring of her subject. But her discussion of the former first lady's encounters with the 'crude misogyny' of the men in the U.N.'s U.S. delegation is vivid.
MixedThe Chicago TribuneAs much a polemic as a work of fiction, The Boat Rocker describes an Orwellian world in which a single questionable judgment, coupled with a stubborn adherence to principle, exposes Danlin to life-shaking consequences ... Written in Ha Jin's typically plain-spoken style, The Boat Rocker is not one of his finest works. Its plot turns seem both unlikely and cynical, and its dialogue can be stiffly political. But the author's own genuine anger at hypocrisy ultimately renders the title character, and his plight, sympathetic.
PositiveThe Chicago TribuneThere is comic brio, but also an insider's precision, to Wayne's depiction of an institution riddled with entitlement, academic pretense and social traps, like a sophisticated version of the old children's game Chutes and Ladders. By making David his narrator, Wayne, a New York Times columnist and the author of two previous novels, implicates us in his machinations.
MixedThe Los Angeles TimesIn its preoccupation with unreliable narration and marital betrayal, Siracusa evokes not only Akira Kurosawa’s 1950 film Rashomon, but also Ford Madox Ford’s 1915 modernist masterpiece The Good Soldier and Showtime’s ongoing dramatic series The Affair. There’s even an echo of Ian McEwan’s 2001 novel, Atonement about passion, guilt and how writers distort lives for literary ends ... As much as it is a marital dirge, Siracusa is also a meditation on writing – specifically, on the difficulties of embodying life in fiction ... In the end, Siracusa, like life, is a tad disappointing, its culminating disaster coming as something of an anticlimax.
MixedThe Chicago Tribune[A] tender, unspectacular coming-of-age memoir ... Snippets of Mormon history, beliefs and rituals supply the story with a colorful backdrop ... It takes a while for The Latter Days to build up emotional steam. Mostly it flows slowly, a gentle stream of recollections, sometimes coalescing into eloquence.
RaveThe Boston GlobeThe House by the Lake meticulously chronicles two linked feats of reclamation: the author’s reconstruction of the house’s life and times and his quest to restore the building itself ... The principal achievement of The House by the Lake is Harding’s portrayal of the ordinary lives, loves, and foibles of the people who passed through the house. He manages to show, too, how historical currents carried them along.
Peter D. Kramer
PositiveThe Barnes & Noble Review[Ordinarily Well] brilliantly dissects decades-worth of antidepressant drug trials, while touting the value of clinical observation and practice ... He argues forcefully that selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) such as Prozac, as well as other antidepressants, are invaluable tools in the psychiatric arsenal ... It helps that he is a clear, patient and often elegant writer, with a predilection for circling back to his principal points. But his sophisticated argument demands a willingness to grapple with nuances of the construction, interpretation and limitations of drug trials – fascinating, as he predicts, but hardly beach reading.
MixedThe Boston GlobeThere is much to admire in Faludi’s memoir, whose zigzagging narrative encompasses tales of the Holocaust, a discussion of Hungary’s embattled legacy of 'self-pity and brutality,' and an interrogation of the links between culture and gender identity. At its center, though, is a particularly irritating antihero — a lout who is also a logorrhiac bore. Instead of the trope of transsexual as society’s victim, Faludi gives us a solipsistic victimizer whose troubles are, at least in part, self-inflicted. In lieu of being moved by his struggles, we are appalled by his boorishness — a testament to Faludi’s candor and lack of sentimentality, but also an impediment to involvement. Still, the inevitable arc is toward a hard-earned empathy.
PositiveThe Chicago Tribune...[a] sprightly, gently feminist history...Weigel's attempts to link dating conventions (and marriage patterns) to the economy are intriguing, if not always fully convincing.
PanThe Chicago TribuneBolick's book, laden with cultural and literary aspirations, turns out to be a high-minded bore ... Bolick can offer only the truism that women should hold on 'to that in you which is independent and self-sufficient, whether you're single or coupled.'
MixedThe Chicago TribuneFor the most part, Traister purveys a common-sense feminism that accepts complexity and contradiction — not least when she credits single women with the creation of more egalitarian and fulfilling marriages. Once upon a time, she suggests, '(a) potential mate could more easily get away with offering only a pay check, a penis, and a pulse' — but no longer. 'By demanding more from men and from marriage,' she writes, 'it's single women who have perhaps played as large a part as anyone in saving marriage in America.' To those of us still on the outside looking in, that seems painfully ironic.
PositiveThe Boston Globe...compact, polished, and readable ... Orenstein laments the 'hypersexualization' of girls, the pressures to be at once physically perfect and powerful — and the role of social media in measuring and shaping 'friendship, self-image, and self-worth.'
RaveThe Los Angeles TimesCharlotte Brontë's end seems to have been harrowing. But at least Harman's meticulous, affectionate biography reassures us that her afterlife is in good hands.
Nancy Jo Sales
MixedThe Boston GlobeAmerican Girls, organized by its interviewees’ ages (from 13 to 19), dives deeply (and appallingly) into teen culture and its reliance on social media, but at the cost of considerable repetition and tedium ... Sales deserves credit for the intimacy of her reporting. She managed to record innumerable, mostly insipid, often horrifying, and occasionally perceptive conversations among groups of girls, and a handful with the boys who alternately befriend and exploit them.
MixedThe Boston GlobeRight or wrong, it is a provocative argument, even if the manifold failures of Prohibition also render it — as McGirr herself acknowledges — a paradoxical one.
RaveThe Washington Post“While the City Slept is an expertly crafted nonfiction narrative, marred only by Sanders’s unwieldy use of geological metaphors and his predilection for sentence fragments. His even-handed reporting and emotional commitment to the story make for gripping reading — and the systemic failures he highlights cry out for remedy, even if it’s hard to know just where to begin.
MixedThe Boston Globe...an intimate, rambling, charming, and ultimately moving memoir — and social history — about the competing pulls of romantic love, family, country, and religious heritage.
Amos Kamil and Sean Elder
PositiveThe Chicago TribuneAt once fair-minded and tendentious, the book has its share of digressions, repetitions and inside baseball (actual baseball, too — Kamil's ticket from the streets to Horace Mann). But, on the whole, it is an important and engrossing read.
PositiveThe Boston GlobeAllende’s prose style is simple, sometimes so unadorned as to seem awkward — perhaps an intentional tic or an artifact of its translation from the Spanish. Only over time does the novel’s multilayered story, with its occasional hints of a parallel spirit world, grip the reader and acquire poetic force.
RaveThe Boston Globe\"Do not be deterred by the book’s heft. Sinatra: The Chairman is a riveting read — a juicy, painstakingly researched, excitingly written examination of a brilliant musician, an uneven and temperamental actor, and a charming, erratic, deeply flawed man.\
PanThe Chicago Tribune...for the most part Jong's literary reputation has never matched her commercial success. Fear of Dying, a ruminative, intermittently tedious mess of a novel, is unlikely to change that ... Jong depicts Wonderman as a (mostly) caring daughter, who, in the book's most vividly written scenes, expresses a mixture of tenderness and repulsion toward her impossibly old parents.
Kathryn J. Edin and Luke Shaefer
RaveThe Los Angeles TimesWriting with clear-eyed compassion for these men, women and especially children at society's margins, they emphasize the extent to which the adults embrace the prototypical American values of hard work and individual responsibility.