Reviews I’ve done for Publisher’s Weekly:
Lit: A Memoir Mary Karr. Harper, $25.99 (400p) ISBN 978-0-06-191813-1
Karr returns with her third account (after The Liar’s Club and Cherry) of her dark and drunken years as a newlywed and new mother, written to help her son get “the whole tale” of their early years together. Before she wrote memoirs, Karr was driven with a vagabond spirit toward poetry, whose origins she traces to the rural colloquialisms of her Texas roots. That poetic sensibility infuses every sentence of her story with an alliterative and symbolic energy, conjuring echoes of poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, and occasionally, Sylvia Plath. She even marries a fellow poet, a moneyed and controlling man named Warren. Unlike Plath, however, Karr’s impulse toward self-destruction originates more from the example set by her larger-than-life, emotionally stunted parents, who were often her drinking partners. Her slow trudge toward writing success and her marriage to yet another man who comes from wealth set off her drinking in earnest. Soon she’s drinking daily at all hours, hiding it in shame. Years later she obtains sobriety but not mental health, and checks into a hospital after a halfhearted suicide attempt. What heals her most deeply, however, is when she opens herself to prayer. Fortunately, Karr’s wry wit and deft prose do not render her slow conversion to Catholicism in a sentimental or proselytizing manner. (Nov.)
The Locust and the Bird Hanan al-Shaykh. Pantheon, $24.95 (320p) ISBN 978-0-307-37820-0
Al-Shaykh, a Lebanese journalist and author of six novels (including Story of Zahra), finally succumbs to her illiterate mother Kamila’s haranguing to write her story. The result falls somewhere between memoir and biography as she recreates and undoubtedly takes literary license with her mother’s history. Kamila and her brother grow up in poverty, estranged from their father, until their mother moves them to Beirut to live with their older siblings from her first marriage in the 1930s. Soon, one of their sisters dies of rabies and the family marries 14-year-old Kamila unwillingly to the widower, Abu-Hussein, 18 years her elder. Kamila torments her husband to show her displeasure, but bears him two children by the age of 17. Her starry-eyed love of the cinema is all that assuages her unhappiness but also fuels her affair with a man her own age, Muhammed. After the 10-year affair has shamed both their families, she is granted a divorce from Abu-Hussein but must leave her two daughters behind, including the author, Hanan. Kamila has five more children with Muhammed. Though at times Kamila’s life feels overly condensed, the author’s journalistic talent reveals itself in her ability to get past her own abandonment to paint Kamila as a vivid, willful girl who lived as though she were the heroine of a great film. (Aug.)
Recent Published Articles:
Does Free Pay? Profile of Chris Anderson, Wired Magazine Editor. –In Writer’s Digest magazine.
More articles and stories at: www.jordanrosenfeld.net