IN SEARCH OF OUR MOTHERS' GARDENS

WOMANIST PROSE

For poet and novelist Walker (The Color Purple), racism is like the "creeping kudzu vine that swallows whole forests and abandoned houses; if you don't keep pulling up the roots it will grow back faster than you can destroy it." Her own answer is to downplay revolutionary rhetoric in favor of the "least glamourous stuff"—practical organizing and community service. For the black writer, this also means working "to create and to preserve what was created before him." And so in many of these subtle 1966-82 essays, Walker explores key figures—Langston Hughes, Jean Toomer, Zora Neale Hurston. She admires Hurston's "sense of black people as complete, complex, undiminished human beings," as well as her personal zest and style. Walker traces her own interest in writing to a disfiguring childhood accident which left her timid and withdrawn. "I began really to see people and things, really to notice relationships and to learn to be patient enough to care about how they turned out." Patience would be necessary in the Sixties, when her work was dismissed by black reviewers "because of my life style, a euphemism for my interracial marriage." And it would steady her during the writing of The Color Purple, for which she retreated to a country home in northern California—where reluctant characters crystallized. "And no wonder: it looked a lot like the town in Georgia most of them were from, only it was more beautiful and the local swimming was not segregated." In her writing Walker strives to maintain "an awareness of and openness to mystery, which, to me, is deeper than any politics, race, or geographical location." Thus, she finds inspiration too in Flannery O'Connor. "Essential O'Conner is not about race at all. . .If it can be said to be 'about' anything, then it is. . . about the impact of supernatural grace on human beings who don't have a chance of spiritual growth without it." But she is also drawn to the earlier generations of anonymous black women, who "handed on the creative spark, the seed of the flower they themselves never hoped to see: or like a sealed letter they could not plainly read." Thoughtful, intelligent, resonant musings.

Pub Date: Oct. 10, 1983

ISBN: 0156028646

Page Count: 424

Publisher: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich

Review Posted Online: Oct. 6, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1983

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Dramatic, immersive, and wanting—much like desire itself.

THREE WOMEN

Based on eight years of reporting and thousands of hours of interaction, a journalist chronicles the inner worlds of three women’s erotic desires.

In her dramatic debut about “what longing in America looks like,” Taddeo, who has contributed to Esquire, Elle, and other publications, follows the sex lives of three American women. On the surface, each woman’s story could be a soap opera. There’s Maggie, a teenager engaged in a secret relationship with her high school teacher; Lina, a housewife consumed by a torrid affair with an old flame; and Sloane, a wealthy restaurateur encouraged by her husband to sleep with other people while he watches. Instead of sensationalizing, the author illuminates Maggie’s, Lina’s, and Sloane’s erotic experiences in the context of their human complexities and personal histories, revealing deeper wounds and emotional yearnings. Lina’s infidelity was driven by a decade of her husband’s romantic and sexual refusal despite marriage counseling and Lina's pleading. Sloane’s Fifty Shades of Grey–like lifestyle seems far less exotic when readers learn that she has felt pressured to perform for her husband's pleasure. Taddeo’s coverage is at its most nuanced when she chronicles Maggie’s decision to go to the authorities a few years after her traumatic tryst. Recounting the subsequent trial against Maggie’s abuser, the author honors the triumph of Maggie’s courageous vulnerability as well as the devastating ramifications of her community’s disbelief. Unfortunately, this book on “female desire” conspicuously omits any meaningful discussion of social identities beyond gender and class; only in the epilogue does Taddeo mention race and its impacts on women's experiences with sex and longing. Such oversight brings a palpable white gaze to the narrative. Compounded by the author’s occasionally lackluster prose, the book’s flaws compete with its meaningful contribution to #MeToo–era reporting.

Dramatic, immersive, and wanting—much like desire itself.

Pub Date: July 9, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4516-4229-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Avid Reader Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2019

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Not an easy read but an essential one.

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HOW TO BE AN ANTIRACIST

Title notwithstanding, this latest from the National Book Award–winning author is no guidebook to getting woke.

In fact, the word “woke” appears nowhere within its pages. Rather, it is a combination memoir and extension of Atlantic columnist Kendi’s towering Stamped From the Beginning (2016) that leads readers through a taxonomy of racist thought to anti-racist action. Never wavering from the thesis introduced in his previous book, that “racism is a powerful collection of racist policies that lead to racial inequity and are substantiated by racist ideas,” the author posits a seemingly simple binary: “Antiracism is a powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to racial equity and are substantiated by antiracist ideas.” The author, founding director of American University’s Antiracist Research and Policy Center, chronicles how he grew from a childhood steeped in black liberation Christianity to his doctoral studies, identifying and dispelling the layers of racist thought under which he had operated. “Internalized racism,” he writes, “is the real Black on Black Crime.” Kendi methodically examines racism through numerous lenses: power, biology, ethnicity, body, culture, and so forth, all the way to the intersectional constructs of gender racism and queer racism (the only section of the book that feels rushed). Each chapter examines one facet of racism, the authorial camera alternately zooming in on an episode from Kendi’s life that exemplifies it—e.g., as a teen, he wore light-colored contact lenses, wanting “to be Black but…not…to look Black”—and then panning to the history that informs it (the antebellum hierarchy that valued light skin over dark). The author then reframes those received ideas with inexorable logic: “Either racist policy or Black inferiority explains why White people are wealthier, healthier, and more powerful than Black people today.” If Kendi is justifiably hard on America, he’s just as hard on himself. When he began college, “anti-Black racist ideas covered my freshman eyes like my orange contacts.” This unsparing honesty helps readers, both white and people of color, navigate this difficult intellectual territory.

Not an easy read but an essential one.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-50928-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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