Illuminates Orwell’s political convictions and gives fleeting but vivid glimpses of his personal qualities.

GEORGE ORWELL

A LIFE IN LETTERS

A representative selection, culled from the 20-volume Complete Works, which Davison co-edited, of correspondence by and to 20th-century England’s fiercest literary opponent of totalitarianism.

There are very few letters from the childhood of Eric Blair (Orwell’s real name) and none from the years as an imperial policeman in Burma that formed his anticolonial and socialist views; the collection really begins in 1934, not long after the publication of Down and Out in Paris and London introduced the 31-year-old author under the pen name George Orwell. Most are by Orwell himself, but gaps in the historical record are filled by correspondence from others. The letters of his first wife, Eileen O’Shaughnessy, are particularly valuable; livelier and much more personal than the author’s, they give intimate glimpses of the couple’s home life and sometimes-fraught relationship. Their warmth makes palpable the awful loss inflicted by 39-year-old Eileen’s death during surgery in 1945, a trauma only hinted at in Orwell’s dignified, reticent account of the event. In general, he is a brisk, businesslike correspondent; among the few exceptions are affectionate references to his adopted son and a few emotional 1946 letters to his London neighbor Anne Popham, which add some nuance to the 2007 controversy over charges that Orwell’s wooing style was aggressively close to rape. Readers seeking insights into the creation of Animal Farm or 1984 will find only a few scattered sentences, and nonfiction, such as The Road to Wigan Pier, is similarly referred to mostly in passing. The correspondence does convey Orwell’s strong, principled political positions, especially his revulsion against fellow leftists who “set up a double standard of political morality, one for the U.S.S.R. and the other for the rest of the world.” Grim letters chronicling the worsening tuberculosis that killed him remind us how prematurely we lost this ardent voice for a single standard of truthfulness and common decency.

Illuminates Orwell’s political convictions and gives fleeting but vivid glimpses of his personal qualities.

Pub Date: Aug. 12, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-87140-462-6

Page Count: 560

Publisher: Liveright/Norton

Review Posted Online: May 12, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2013

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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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BECOMING

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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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

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