Review of My Brother’s Book

my brothers book Review of My Brothers BookMy Brother’s Book
by Maurice Sendak; 
illus. by the author
di Capua/HarperCollins    32 pp.
2/13    978-0-06-223489-6    $18.95    g
If, as Wordsworth wrote, “poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquillity,” Sendak’s vision of a Dante-esque search for his beloved brother Jack (1924–1995) is poetry in both word and art—though tranquility is only achieved with reunion in the sleep of death. In an eloquent introduction, Shakespeare scholar Stephen Greenblatt links this posthumous book to A Winter’s Tale, “absorbed, redistributed, and transformed into something rich and strange” and also notes the familiar Sendakian relationship between love and menace. Indeed. “Guy’s” dreamlike quest is riddled with such opposites: light and dark, heaven and the underworld, fire and ice, winter and spring. The visual imagery in the postcard-sized art is haunting, with nude adult figures recalling William Blake’s ardent seekers after truth; the sleeping babes in the wood; and multiple moons (now faceless, unlike in We Are All in the Dumps with Jack and Guy, rev. 1/94) plus stars and suns. Some of Sendak’s most poignant themes take on even more resonance and universality. Holocaust references, while still present, are not explicit. Eating, or being eaten by, a powerful figure now involves a bear—not Shakespeare’s, exactly, but a polar bear that is intrinsic to the brothers’ transfiguration. As the ultimate not-for-little-children Sendak, this profoundly personal book about loss and healing should find its audience among thoughtful adults (and perhaps some teenagers).

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Joanna Rudge Long About Joanna Rudge Long

Joanna Rudge Long is former editor of Kirkus Reviews and a frequent lecturer on children’s books.

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