A solid addition to Holocaust literature.

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THE HAPPIEST MAN ON EARTH

THE BEAUTIFUL LIFE OF AN AUSCHWITZ SURVIVOR

Uplifting memoir from a Holocaust survivor.

After Hitler took power in 1933, he expelled all Jewish students from schools, include the teenage Jaku (b. 1920), member of a prosperous Leipzig family. Using his influence in the community, the author’s father obtained false papers for his son and enrolled him in an elite engineering school far across the country. After five years of living alone as a gentile under an assumed name, he graduated at the top of his class. In November 1938, hoping to surprise his parents on their 20th wedding anniversary, he returned home only to find the house empty. His parents were in hiding because it was the infamous Kristallnacht, when Jews endured massive atrocities across Germany. That evening, thugs beat him brutally before sending him to the new Buchenwald concentration camp, where he remained for six months under appalling conditions. Upon his discharge, his family fled to Belgium. After the Nazi invasion in May 1940, he fled again, walking to the south of France, where he was arrested. After spending seven months in a French concentration camp, he was loaded onto a train for Auschwitz but escaped and made his way back to Belgium to join his family in hiding. All were arrested in 1943 and sent to Auschwitz, where his parents were killed and he became a slave laborer. Readers will be horrified by Jaku’s painful description of the unspeakable conditions and sadistic treatment he received. He survived only through determination, cooperation with a friend, luck, and his engineering skills, which gave him some privileges. After the war, he returned to Belgium and married, but he found the country unwelcoming and moved to Australia, where he still lives with his wife and large family. Some readers may find Jaku’s account of his long, prosperous life after Auschwitz anticlimactic, but no one will deny that he deserves it.

A solid addition to Holocaust literature.

Pub Date: May 4, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-06-309768-1

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: March 2, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2021

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A lovely, sometimes challenging testament to the universality of human nature.

HUMANS

The creator of the hit internet series Humans of New York takes it global, chasing down a panoply of interesting stories.

In 1955, Edward Steichen staged a show called “The Family of Man,” a gathering of photographs that emphasized the commonality of humankind. Stanton’s project seemingly has much the same ambition. “You’ve created this magic little corner of the Web where people feel safe sharing their stories—without being ridiculed, or bullied, or judged,” he writes. “These stories are only honestly shared because they have a long history of being warmly received.” The ask is the hard part: approaching a total stranger and asking him or her to tell their stories. And what stories they are. A young Frenchwoman, tearful, recounts being able to see things from the spirit world that no one else can see. “And it’s been a very lonely existence since then,” she says. A sensible teenager in St. Petersburg, Russia, relates that her friends are trying to be grown-up, smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol, whereas she wants to remain a child close to her parents: “I’d like these times to last as long as possible.” A few stories are obnoxious, as with a Dutch incel who has converted himself into a pickup artist and outright cad: “Of course it’s manipulation, but why should I care? I’ve been manipulated so many times in my life.” A great many stories, some going for several pages but most taking up just a paragraph or two, are regretful, speaking to dashed dreams and roads not taken. A surprising number recount mental illness, depression, and addiction; “I’d give anything to have a tribe,” says a beleaguered mother in Barcelona. Some are hopeful, though, such as that of an Iranian woman: “I’ve fallen in love with literature. I try to read for one or two hours every day. I only have one life to live. But in books I can live one thousand lives.”

A lovely, sometimes challenging testament to the universality of human nature.

Pub Date: Oct. 6, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-11429-7

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2020

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A refreshing celebrity memoir focused not strictly on the self but on a much larger horizon.

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WILL

One of Hollywood’s biggest stars delivers a memoir of success won through endless, relentless work and self-reckoning.

“My imagination is my gift, and when it merges with my work ethic, I can make money rain from the heavens.” So writes Smith, whose imagination is indeed a thing of wonder—a means of coping with fear, an abusive father with the heart of a drill instructor, and all manner of inner yearnings. The author’s imagination took him from a job bagging ice in Philadelphia to initial success as a partner in the Grammy-winning rap act DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince. Smith was propelled into stardom thanks to the ministrations of Quincy Jones, who arranged an audition in the middle of his own birthday party, bellowing “No paralysis through analysis!” when Smith begged for time to prepare. The mantra—which Jones intoned 50-odd times during the two hours it took for the Hollywood suits to draw up a contract for the hit comedy series The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air—is telling, for hidden within this memoir lies a powerful self-help book. For Smith, all of life is a challenge in which one’s feelings are largely immaterial. “I watched my father’s negative emotions seize control of his ample intellect and cause him over and over again to destroy beautiful parts of our family,” he writes, good reason for him to sublimate negativity in the drive to get what he wanted—money, at first, and lots of it, which got him in trouble with the IRS in the early 1990s. Smith, having developed a self-image that cast him as a coward, opines that one’s best life is lived by facing up to the things that hold us back. “I’ve been making a conscious effort to attack all the things that I’m scared of,” he writes, adding, “And this is scary.” It’s a good lesson for any aspiring creative to ponder—though it helps to have Smith’s abundant talent, too.

A refreshing celebrity memoir focused not strictly on the self but on a much larger horizon.

Pub Date: Nov. 9, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-984877-92-5

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Nov. 9, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2021

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