REINVENTING A CONTINENT

WRITING AND POLITICS IN SOUTH AFRICA

Like slightly stale bread, these essays (most from the 1980s and early 1990s) by one of South Africa’s leading novelists examining the role of that country’s literature have seen better days. The end of apartheid struck South African artists particularly hard, remarks Brink. So much of their work had been premised on bravely decrying myriad injustices, on supporting the “struggle” as a weapon of liberation. Within these confines, hemmed in by censorship and oppression, extraordinary creativity flourished. But as Brink (Imaginings of Sand, 1996, etc.) notes, “imagination remained predicated on the presence of prison bars.” As soon as the bars started to lift, many artists were overwhelmed by the burden of freedom. But Brink is an optimist. Unlike some of his contemporaries, he has avoided the deconstructionist obscurity or thinly veiled despair that characterizes so much white South African writing today. In fact, many of these essays revolve around potential new directions and roles for art. He goes as far as to compare apartheid’s end to photography’s freeing of 19th-century painting from the constraints of realism. Other essays are taken up with that perennial big issue: the role of art and the artist in society—especially a society where art, at first glance, looks like a luxury. Brink also examines Afrikaner society, rugby, and the minutiae of political developments. There are some embarrassingly adulatory encomiums to the African National Congress and its various politicos (though his accolades from the 1990s are a little more evenhanded). Brink has a clear and forceful, passionate style. But unlike an Orwell or a Greene, he is unable to transform the timeliness of most of these essays into something more timeless. Nelson Mandela contributes the book’s preface. As a record of liberal white South African thought ten years ago, this is a peerless collection, but by almost any other criteria, most of these essays—with a few notable exceptions—are fast slipping into irrelevance.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-944072-89-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1998

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

NIGHT

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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