"The writing throughout is strong, with frequent use of simile."– Kirkus Reviews
Clovis’ (The Future Is My Past, 2017, etc.) memoir, filled with personal tales and accounts of different social justice issues, considers Princeton University and its city.
Though the author seemed to conclude her Princeton-centric books with what she dubbed the Princeton Trilogy, her fourth book continues to expand on the topic. Short chapters cover a variety of events in the city, many of which Clovis has experienced personally. In the latter half of 2017, for example, residents held a solar eclipse viewing party; a remembrance for victims of the Vegas shooting; and a vigil for Xiyue Wang, a Princeton University graduate detained in Iran on a conviction of espionage. The author likewise shares her views on incidents of racism and discrimination. These include Princeton barbers in the 1960s who refused to cut black people’s “wiry hair” to, more recently, racist language and imagery appearing on a Princeton middle school website. Clovis also addresses anti-Semitism and sexual assault, namely the #MeToo Movement. But personal moments prevail; she recalls shopping at a Princeton store that carried old-school vinyl records and spending teatime with her grandmother. The anecdotes that stand out, however, are stories of Ms. Ida B., an elderly Princeton woman whom the author interviewed for her first book and later befriended. It’s clear Ms. Ida B. is not merely an interview subject, but part of Clovis’ life. The two women attended theatrical performances on slavery. It’s a moment of welcome candor; Clovis is clearly part of the city she documents. Descriptions throughout are concise and colorful: “The white snow illuminates the landscape bright as the black ice recalls the burns of snow plow scraping across its face.” Though Clovis thoroughly examines intolerance in her city and beyond, the book’s ending is more personal than political.
An inspiring, lyrical fusion of pertinent social issues and the writer’s own experiences.
The third of Clovis’ (Six Doors Down, 2017, etc.) Princeton-centric novels uses time travel to examine how discrimination has changed or stayed relatively the same.
A recurring theme in the author’s trilogy is synchronicity, Carl Jung’s notion of “meaningful coincidence.” In her latest installment, Clovis addresses the possibility of traveling to the past and future via consciousness. This opens up discussions on crucial issues, both in their current state and throughout history. For example, there’s been an increase in anti-Semitic attacks since the start of the Trump administration, hate-fueled incidents the author equates with the Holocaust. “Learning the truth of the past and educating future generations,” she notes, “will begin the process of change.” She drives home her point by delving into the concept of parallel worlds. February 2017 global protests to stop the U.S. government from denying Syrian refugees entry is a potential reflection of historical change; in other words, a parallel world without the demonstrations could be considerably worse. As in Clovis’ preceding books, Princeton University is the hub for various tales, from personal accounts to a charter school’s increased budget adversely affecting public schools. But the town of Princeton is especially suitable to this novel; as a sanctuary city, it’s largely protected from Donald Trump’s recent immigrant deportation orders. In addition to racial and religious intolerance, Clovis perceptively tackles other subjects, like new journalism (Facebook as a subpar news source). She retains her effective time motif even in lighthearted moments: university students having to duck out of long lectures to feed parking meters. Most winsome, however, is the story of Clovis giving a heart-shaped pin to Carnethia (mother to Ida B., about whom the author’s previously written), a blue-collar university employee. The pin becomes a “souvenir of time travel,” somehow making its way back to the author. Readers of her earlier works will come to expect Clovis’ precise, striking descriptions: “The green-aged slate plates of roof hold folded, pale yellow, dim-lit, multi-paned windows that reflect the daylight.”
An insightful and earnest collection of stories centered on a sanctuary city.
Clovis (Quantum Leaps in Princeton’s Place, 2015, etc.) continues her fictionalized tales of residents, university students, and faculty in Princeton, New Jersey, as they endure and battle discrimination throughout history.
Many of the real-life people portrayed in this book have harrowing back stories. Italian journalist Roberto Saviano, for example, once enraged the Mafia with his bestselling tell-all book, but now he’s free from constant fear as a teacher at Princeton University. Most others face racism, including the author’s daughter, Michaela, who recalls schoolteachers treating her unfairly. Clovis uses different voices to provide social context, as in a lengthy section featuring Michelle Obama, who attended Princeton in the 1980s; in it, the author quotes the first lady’s 2016 New Hampshire speech in support of then-presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, which discusses bigotry as well as sexism. It’s a startling piece about intolerance at the highest levels and mirrors a later chapter, in which university students in 2015 stage a protest to have Woodrow Wilson’s name removed from the school. The former U.S. president, the author says, was not only in favor of segregation, but also discouraged African-Americans from applying to Princeton when he was head of the university. Throughout, Clovis advocates examining history in order to bring about social change. For example, in 1992, District of Columbia public defender Robert Wilkins was pulled over on suspicion of drug trafficking by Maryland cops (which Clovis faintly links to Princeton via a somewhat similar case); Wilkins’ ensuing lawsuit was both a triumph and a landmark, requiring the state of Maryland to maintain detailed records of traffic stops. The book touches on other unsettling subjects, such as the story of the infamous Menendez brothers; they were convicted of murdering their parents, whose graves are in Princeton Cemetery. One of the best stories, however, relates to Sept. 11, 2001: on her daily train rides to New York City, Clovis noticed that some of her fellow commuters were suddenly gone after the terrorist attack, their fates unknown. This section provides a showcase for the author’s remarkable prose: “I could hear my footsteps echo against the damp cement walkway as I rushed to the train. The echo reminded me of the fear behind me and being alone. Death.”
Short but cogent stories that stimulate as often as they educate.
In her latest novel, Clovis (Another SAT, 2005, etc.) depicts a century of change in the one-time home of Albert Einstein.
Princeton, New Jersey, a tree-lined town dominated by its famous university, contains many magnificent homes—including the Rosedale House, which serves as the focal point of this book. Its residents witness many changes in the town, starting in the early 1900s. Those residents include Ida, an African-American girl who yearns to break away from Carnethia, her suffocating mother; Daisy, the white mistress of the house; her husband, Barker; a rebellious African-American girl named Beatrice; and Tina, who dreams of success as a singer. As they go about their lives, growing and changing, Princeton grows and changes as well; horse-drawn vehicles give way to automobiles, and older homes and buildings are torn down and replaced by modern hotels, stores, and landmarks such as Palmer Square. At the center of everything is the Rosedale House, the one constant in a sea of change. The writing throughout is strong, with frequent use of simile (“They strolled slowly from Nassau Street to the Rosedale house, like a dark sea creeping its way along a pale, sandy beach”). Clovis begins the book with observations about how she came to write it through a happy accident of circumstances. She effectively uses a large, ever-changing cast of characters, weaving them in and out of the story in various locales, but never letting the focus wander from Princeton and the theme of time’s passage. It also depicts the casual and violent racism of American society in the early- to mid-1900s, such as when Beatrice is raped by a white man, or when Daisy attempts to help an African-American family move into another town’s white neighborhood. Even the chapter about Einstein, a legendary character in Princeton for his violin playing and absent-minded wanderings, shows the otherwise open-minded community’s surprising bigotry. Given the recent, racially charged events in Ferguson, Missouri, and other places, Clovis’ version of Princeton seems like a microcosm of America.
An engaging look at the evolution of a town, its people, and its attitudes.