A footnote in the vast literature of civil rights, but a resonant one.




An African-American nurse experiences racism in two nations driven apart by war.

Elinor Powell earned a nursing degree in 1943 and joined the U.S. Army the following year, determined to do her part for the war effort. She was sent to Arizona to complete her basic training and then posted to a German prisoner-of-war camp in the desert south of Phoenix. There, Elinor met Frederick Albert, an English-speaking German with a learned interest in the jazz music that had been banned by the Hitler regime. Frederick, writes freelance journalist Clark, was a man of many parts, an artist and intellectual who opposed Hitler but joined the army all the same. He claimed to have been a combat soldier captured in Italy, but the paperwork Clark turns up suggests that he was instead a medical corpsman taken prisoner in North Africa. “The most reasonable explanation was that in an attempt to impress his children, Frederick told them that he was an elite paratrooper,” writes the author. Whatever the case, those children resulted from the ardent romance Elinor and Frederick struck up in that Arizona camp and continued after the war, moving a step ahead of Jim Crow laws and finally, after marrying in New York, returning for a time to Germany, where their young children experienced a racism of a different kind and degree from that they would have to endure back home. “Focusing on prejudice could have destroyed their relationship,” writes Clark, “since it seemed that the world was against them.” Yet their relationship prevailed even when it developed that Frederick had a different notion of faithfulness from Elinor’s, and they did what they could to shield their children—one of whom grew up to be a professional jazz trumpeter—from the worst of the bigotry they encountered in two lands.

A footnote in the vast literature of civil rights, but a resonant one.

Pub Date: May 15, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-62097-186-4

Page Count: 272

Publisher: The New Press

Review Posted Online: March 5, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2018

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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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