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A MOONLESS, STARLESS SKY

ORDINARY WOMEN AND MEN FIGHTING EXTREMISM IN AFRICA

Cleareyed, lyrical, observant, and compassionate—reportage at its finest.

Examining conflicts in four African countries through the eyes of those experiencing and trying to fight them.

In this remarkable debut, New Yorker staff writer Okeowo, whose Nigerian parents moved to the United States, where she was born, explores significant conflicts in four African countries through the stories of individuals who have been victims of, but have also worked to combat, various forms of extremism. She delves into the lives of a couple who were victims of Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda. She tells of a young woman kidnapped by Boko Haram who managed to escape and of a man who joined in a vigilante organization confronting that terrorist group directly. She pursues the story of a man fighting against pernicious (and putatively illegal) slavery in Mauritania. She shows the struggle for young women in Somalia just to do something as seemingly innocent as play basketball. The author focuses her unflinching gaze on only a handful of people in each case study, which allows her a level of depth and nuance that a wider cast of characters would render impossible. Each of her tales, based on five years of on-the-ground reporting, gets two chapters: one in Part 1, “The Beginning,” and the other in Part 2, “The Aftermath.” These latter chapters, however, do not necessarily reach a conclusion; rather, they reveal a middle in which anything, including tragedy, could surely still happen. Throughout, Okeowo writes with beauty and grace, and her subjects are compelling. Refreshingly, she does not give in to easy answers. In the cases where the extremists are radical Islamists, she makes it clear that oftentimes the victims of their radicalism are devout Muslims, that Christian leaders and politicians are often equally culpable in local problems, and that complexity—not simplistic good-guy/bad-guy narratives—is a dominant theme throughout the region.

Cleareyed, lyrical, observant, and compassionate—reportage at its finest.

Pub Date: Oct. 3, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-316-38293-9

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Hachette

Review Posted Online: June 13, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2017

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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

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A neurosurgeon with a passion for literature tragically finds his perfect subject after his diagnosis of terminal lung cancer.

Writing isn’t brain surgery, but it’s rare when someone adept at the latter is also so accomplished at the former. Searching for meaning and purpose in his life, Kalanithi pursued a doctorate in literature and had felt certain that he wouldn’t enter the field of medicine, in which his father and other members of his family excelled. “But I couldn’t let go of the question,” he writes, after realizing that his goals “didn’t quite fit in an English department.” “Where did biology, morality, literature and philosophy intersect?” So he decided to set aside his doctoral dissertation and belatedly prepare for medical school, which “would allow me a chance to find answers that are not in books, to find a different sort of sublime, to forge relationships with the suffering, and to keep following the question of what makes human life meaningful, even in the face of death and decay.” The author’s empathy undoubtedly made him an exceptional doctor, and the precision of his prose—as well as the moral purpose underscoring it—suggests that he could have written a good book on any subject he chose. Part of what makes this book so essential is the fact that it was written under a death sentence following the diagnosis that upended his life, just as he was preparing to end his residency and attract offers at the top of his profession. Kalanithi learned he might have 10 years to live or perhaps five. Should he return to neurosurgery (he could and did), or should he write (he also did)? Should he and his wife have a baby? They did, eight months before he died, which was less than two years after the original diagnosis. “The fact of death is unsettling,” he understates. “Yet there is no other way to live.”

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular clarity.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8840-6

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 29, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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