By Hans Keilson. Tr. by Damion Searls.
June 2017. 224p. Farrar, $25 (9780374535599). 833.
Keilson, who died in 2011 at age 101, was
a well-praised author of fiction and nonfiction whose early novels were banned in
Hitler’s Germany. In 1944, when he wrote
this diary, Keilson was living with forged
papers in Delft, in the German-occupied
Netherlands. His parents were in a concentration camp, and he was presumably under
constant fear of discovery. It is instructive
that, even amid war and life-and-death uncertainty, it is intimated, mundane life goes
on (his lover, Hanna, receives considerable
attention). A true working poet, Keilson,
for the most part, is a private man, widely
read, spiritual, often painfully introspective,
and not always likable. He writes poems to
Hanna, to his wife, and for publication; after
the diary’s end, there is a collection of the
sonnets written for Hanna. Though the sense
of threat and terror that is oddly lacking in
his diary is abundant in the poetry. A curious
and often compelling literary artifact from
the war years. —Mark Levine
Love, Africa: A Memoir of Romance,
War, and Survival.
By Jeffrey Gettleman.
May 2017. 352p. Harper, $27.99 (9780062284099). 810.
Gettleman recounts his two decades in
journalism in this exciting, harrowing memoir that aptly displays why he’s a Pulitzer
Prize winner and a New York Times bureau
chief. In college at Cornell
in the 1990s, Gettleman
discovered his two true
loves: East Africa and a
beautiful, bright fellow
student named Courtenay.
These two passions end
up being at war with each
other: the more Gettleman
seeks out a career that takes him to the region
he feels at home in (first in a brief stint as an
aid worker, and then as a correspondent), it
puts both geographical and emotional distance between him and Courtenay, who is
pursuing her own dream of being a public
defender. But even as Gettleman’s job takes
him to war-torn countries like Afghanistan
and Iraq (and into other women’s beds),
he can’t quite let go of the hope of a future
with Courtenay. Whether he’s recounting
a terrifying encounter with a child killer or
running afoul of the Ethiopian government,
there’s a thrilling immediacy and attention
to detail in Gettleman’s writing that puts
the reader right beside him. Combining that
with his gimlet-eyed observations on East
Africa and his love for the region, especially
Kenya, Gettleman’s memoir is an absolute
must-read. —Kristine Huntley
YA: Teens with an interest in life in other
countries or journalistic aspirations might
find this an absorbing read. KH.
Man of the Year.
By Lou Cove.
May 2017. 320p. Flatiron, $26.99 (9781250123961). 818.
It’s 1978 and soon-to-be-13-year-old
Lou and his family have moved from New
York’s Upper West Side to Salem, Massachusetts. Lou, experiencing culture shock,
is not happy—until Howie, an old friend
of his father’s, and Carly,
Howie’s new wife, arrive for
an extended visit and Lou
is instantly smitten with
Howie, the handsomest
man he’s ever seen. No, Lou
isn’t gay, just an impressionable kid, and Howie is
not only good looking, he
and Carly are intoxicatingly free spirits, who
were married in the buff. Speaking of buff:
it turns out that Howie is Playgirl magazine’s
Mr. November and, better, is in the running
to be the Playgirl Man of the Year, an honor
voted on by the magazine’s readers. What
else for Howie to do but campaign for the
prize and, best of all, make Lou his campaign manager, Hutch to Howie’s Starsky?
Hilarity ensues, but there will be more than
that, for Lou’s adolescent world is larger
than Playgirl. And his memoir of his thirteenth year is a classic coming-of-age story,
beautifully written, consistently agreeable,
and good-humored, though tinged with
melancholy because that’s the way life is.
Not great literature, perhaps, but, perhaps
better, the kind of book readers fall in love
with. —Michael Cart
YA: Teens will be both amused and
absorbed by Cove’s heartfelt memories of
his life and family. MC.
My Soul Looks Back.
By Jessica B. Harris.
May 2017. 272p. Scribner, $25 (9781501125904). 818.
An award-winning food writer, Harris (High
on the Hog, 2011) might be a powerhouse now,
but in the New York of the 1960s and 1970s,
she was a wide-eyed ingenue just coming into
her own when she met Samuel Clemens Floyd
III, a journalist 15 years her senior. Having
been brought up in the “aspirational world
of the Black middle-class life of the period,”
as she describes it, Harris couldn’t help but
be dazzled by the elite black intelligentsia that
Sam introduced her to, most notably James
Baldwin, Nina Simone, and Maya Angelou,
among a whole cast of impressive trailblazers.
Plagued at first by an impostor complex, Harris
describes how she traveled the world with the
mercurial Sam, found her footing, and became
a prominent food writer, even as her outlook
was subtly shaped by her brilliant friends. The
endless name-dropping notwithstanding, Har-
ris’ crisp writing brings New York’s vibrant
social scene and her special relationship with
Sam into sharp focus. A delicious dive into the
rosy glow of youth. —Poornima Apte
The Romance of Elsewhere.
By Lynn Freed.
June 2017. 224p. Counterpoint, $25 (9781619029279).
Even as a teenager, South African Freed
possessed what her mother called “itchy feet.”
She schemed to become an exchange student,
dreaming she’d find real life, but her version
included lolling on yachts and wearing strapless evening gowns. Instead, she ended up in
Greenwich, Connecticut, but found ways to
escape into Manhattan, where the thrum of
city life enchanted her. Freed’s ( The Servants’
Quarters, 2009) collection of (mostly) previously published essays runs a wide gamut.
She revisits Disneyland to find it a tired unreality. She wonders whether menopause is a
cause for celebration (it isn’t). She realizes that
Americans are uncomfortable with the notion of having hired “help.” In one essay, she
arrives in South Africa on the eve of Nelson
Mandela’s release from prison to discover the
notion of black brotherhood curiously missing. Instead, the whole country seems ill at
ease. Fans of Freed will enjoy reading (or rereading) these short works. Readers unfamiliar
with her may find her, by turns, discerning or
dyspeptic. —Joan Curbow
A Stone of Hope.
By Jim St. Germain and Jon Sternfeld.
July 2017. 304p. Harper, $27.99 (9780062458797). 818.
When 11-year-old Jim immigrates to the
U.S. from Haiti, he expects to find a world
like that in the movie Home Alone. Instead, he
winds up in his grandmother’s claustrophobic
rat- and roach-infested apartment in Crown
Heights, Brooklyn. School isn’t much better, a nightmare world of violence, but Jim is
a survivor who struggles to adapt to his new
environment. Nevertheless, by age 13, he’s
stealing and using and dealing drugs. By 15,
he’s incarcerated in the juvenile justice system,
but, as luck would have it, he’s sent to a non-secure detention facility called “Boys Town,”
where—though it’s a struggle—he learns self-respect. Although the system is often castigated
as failing those involved in it, Jim’s case is a
salutary exception, as he emerges from deten-
Whether he’s recounting a terrifying encounter with a child killer or
running afoul of the Ethiopian government, there’s a thrilling immediacy and attention to detail in Gettleman’s writing that puts the reader
right beside him. Combining that with his gimlet-eyed observations
on East Africa and his love for the region, especially Kenya, Gettleman’s memoir is an absolute must-read.
—Kristine Huntley, on Love, Africa