A grim picture of a complicated and troubling situation.

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NO GOOD MEN AMONG THE LIVING

AMERICA, THE TALIBAN, AND THE WAR THROUGH AFGHAN EYES

A fellow at the New American Foundation looks at the policies, actions and failures of the United States in Afghanistan.

Beginning in 2008, Gopal, correspondent for the Wall Street Journal and the Christian Science Monitor, spent four years traveling throughout Afghanistan. Bearded, dressed as a native and speaking like one, he heard stories from fighters, tribal elders, young boys and government officials that challenged his ideas about the war and how we fought it. The author argues that the United States sees the world in black and white—friend versus enemy, good versus evil, etc.—a simplistic view that fails to encompass the complexities of Afghanistan. He presents his analysis of Afghanistan through three individuals: Mullah Cable, a Taliban commander; Jan Muhammad, a member of the U.S.-backed Afghan government; and Heela, a village housewife. His portraits of these three and their tumultuous lives are rich in detail, as are his descriptions of their stark and war-ravaged land. Gopal puts the present Afghanistan in perspective by describing the civil war that followed the withdrawal of Soviet troops in 1989, the emergence in 1994 of the Taliban, who disbanded warring militias and imposed a regime of harsh Islamic law, and the regrouping of the militias in 1996 as the Northern Alliance, which continued to fight the Taliban for the next five years. After 9/11, when the U.S. failed to make a deal with the Taliban to turn over terrorists, including Osama bin Laden, the attacks by American forces began. The chaos that followed has seen power struggles and shifting alliances; attempts to bring stability and root out corruption have failed. American contracts with local power brokers have created a new class of warlords whose militias are known as private security companies. What will happen, Gopal wonders, when the Americans leave and the money dries up?

A grim picture of a complicated and troubling situation.

Pub Date: April 29, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-8050-9179-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Metropolitan/Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: March 18, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2014

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

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

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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