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VOYAThe dearth of documentary biographic information on Melville plagues all his biographers. His oldest son committed suicide at eighteen, yet so little is known of Melville's reaction that Meltzer does little more than chronicle the event. To gain insight into Melville's inner life, Meltzer looks for autobiographical footprints in the author's fiction. The book is organized chronologically. Readers learn of Melville's father's financial ruin, Melville's consequent inability to finish school, and his subsequent decision to go to sea. Melville's three-plus seafaring years, a period that provided inspiration for nearly all his writing, are highlighted. Meltzer writes of Melville's opposition to flogging on ships and to racial prejudice, although Meltzer interprets the poetry of Melville's later years to indicate that he "had fallen away from the passionate opposition to racism expressed in his earlier works.o Melville's lifelong struggles to support himself and his family and to find publishers for his work and acceptance for his ideas figure prominently in the book. His fiction received a measure of acclaim during his lifetime, but his masterwork, Moby Dick, had negative reviews, and thereafter the author gradually retired as a professional writer. Melville is a difficult personality to bring to life, and Meltzer quotes extensively from his fiction to illuminate his persona, but it does not work for this reviewer. Melville's lavish prose style may fail to engage young readers. The book is well presented and researched. It would be a useful purchase for libraries in schools with strong American literature programs. VOYA CODES: 4Q 2P J S (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses; Forthe YA with a special interest in the subject; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12). 2006, Lerner, 128p.; Index. Illus. Photos. Biblio. Source Notes. Further Reading. Chronology., Ages 12 to 18.
—Mary E. Heslin