“Fragments” marred by inconsistencies.

MEZZATERRA

FRAGMENTS FROM THE COMMON GROUND

A mixed bag of political essays, journalism, book reviews and occasional pieces on aspects of life in the Middle East—a region that, novelist and translator Soueif writes, the Western media persistently misunderstand and misinterpret.

Refreshingly, Soueif opens by urging that, rather than be the actors in a clash of civilizations, the West and the Arab world can find some middle ground—a mezzaterra, in Italian, the lingua franca of the Mediterranean—on which to meet and perhaps even wage peace. “Growing up Egyptian in the 60s,” she writes, “meant growing up Muslim/Christian/Egyptian/Arab/African/Mediterranean/non-aligned/socialist but happy with small-scale capitalism.” Alas, hearts and minds have hardened since then, such that her energies have had to go not into planning the details of this middle ground but into proving that it once existed at all. Soueif’s literary and cultural essays are the strongest part of the collection. In one, she does a nice job of gently lampooning the foreign travelers who come to Egypt expecting a kind of Disneyland with pyramids, where tourists dress in “brilliant Arabian Nights pantaloons” while hotel doormen turn away real Arabs who might ruin the atmosphere with reminders of modern reality. In another, she examines the Palestinian literary community and the mezzaterranean possibilities it offers to the region. Soueif reminds readers that Arab society is not monolithic nor motivated entirely and specifically by religion, even though the Western press “attributes simple and immediate motivation to Arabs and Muslims as though they were all single-celled creatures.” Against these, however, work Soueif’s insistent assertions that Israel is the root of all evil in the region, though she still scores points: “It looks as though the parent will be taught by the child: airborne attacks on civilian populations, illegal detentions, use of torture in interrogation, targeted assassinations worldwide, these have been the stock-in-trade of the Israeli state for fifty years and now America looks to follow suit.”

“Fragments” marred by inconsistencies.

Pub Date: Oct. 11, 2005

ISBN: 1-4000-9663-4

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Anchor

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2005

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However charily one should apply the word, a beautiful book, an unconditionally involving memoir for our time or any time.

I KNOW WHY THE CAGED BIRD SINGS

Maya Angelou is a natural writer with an inordinate sense of life and she has written an exceptional autobiographical narrative which retrieves her first sixteen years from "the general darkness just beyond the great blinkers of childhood."

Her story is told in scenes, ineluctably moving scenes, from the time when she and her brother were sent by her fancy living parents to Stamps, Arkansas, and a grandmother who had the local Store. Displaced they were and "If growing up is painful for the Southern Black girl, being aware of her displacement is the rust on the razor that threatens the throat." But alternating with all the pain and terror (her rape at the age of eight when in St. Louis With her mother) and humiliation (a brief spell in the kitchen of a white woman who refused to remember her name) and fear (of a lynching—and the time they buried afflicted Uncle Willie under a blanket of vegetables) as well as all the unanswered and unanswerable questions, there are affirmative memories and moments: her charming brother Bailey; her own "unshakable God"; a revival meeting in a tent; her 8th grade graduation; and at the end, when she's sixteen, the birth of a baby. Times When as she says "It seemed that the peace of a day's ending was an assurance that the covenant God made with children, Negroes and the crippled was still in effect."

However charily one should apply the word, a beautiful book, an unconditionally involving memoir for our time or any time.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 1969

ISBN: 0375507892

Page Count: 235

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1969

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A Churchill-ian view of native history—Ward, that is, not Winston—its facts filtered through a dense screen of ideology.

AN INDIGENOUS PEOPLES' HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

Custer died for your sins. And so, this book would seem to suggest, did every other native victim of colonialism.

Inducing guilt in non-native readers would seem to be the guiding idea behind Dunbar-Ortiz’s (Emerita, Ethnic Studies/California State Univ., Hayward; Blood on the Border: A Memoir of the Contra War, 2005, etc.) survey, which is hardly a new strategy. Indeed, the author says little that hasn’t been said before, but she packs a trove of ideological assumptions into nearly every page. For one thing, while “Indian” isn’t bad, since “[i]ndigenous individuals and peoples in North America on the whole do not consider ‘Indian’ a slur,” “American” is due to the fact that it’s “blatantly imperialistic.” Just so, indigenous peoples were overwhelmed by a “colonialist settler-state” (the very language broadly applied to Israelis vis-à-vis the Palestinians today) and then “displaced to fragmented reservations and economically decimated”—after, that is, having been forced to live in “concentration camps.” Were he around today, Vine Deloria Jr., the always-indignant champion of bias-puncturing in defense of native history, would disavow such tidily packaged, ready-made, reflexive language. As it is, the readers who are likely to come to this book—undergraduates, mostly, in survey courses—probably won’t question Dunbar-Ortiz’s inaccurate assertion that the military phrase “in country” derives from the military phrase “Indian country” or her insistence that all Spanish people in the New World were “gold-obsessed.” Furthermore, most readers won’t likely know that some Ancestral Pueblo (for whom Dunbar-Ortiz uses the long-abandoned term “Anasazi”) sites show evidence of cannibalism and torture, which in turn points to the inconvenient fact that North America wasn’t entirely an Eden before the arrival of Europe.

A Churchill-ian view of native history—Ward, that is, not Winston—its facts filtered through a dense screen of ideology.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-8070-0040-3

Page Count: 296

Publisher: Beacon Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2014

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