A scholarly study with a young adult novel trapped inside and struggling to escape.



Antebellum black communities in the upper Midwest emerge from the mists of history.

By 1860, more than 63,000 African-Americans were living in the five states carved out of the old Northwest Territory, mostly in small farming communities. Many had moved there from the South and East during the territorial period seeking good land and the considerable freedoms guaranteed by the Northwest Ordinance of 1787. As the states from Ohio to Wisconsin were established, the black pioneers' legal status deteriorated as these "free" states stripped them of one legal right after another. While many of them prospered financially, their success proved both a rebuke to the notion that blacks were inherently incapable of thriving on their own and a temptation to their rapacious white neighbors. Greed, racial hatred, and the effects of the fugitive slave laws too often combined to produce incidents of harrowing violence. Cox (A Stronger Kinship: One Town's Extraordinary Story of Hope and Faith, 2006, etc.), a fellow at Harvard’s Hutchins Center for African and African American Research, sets out to illuminate the experience of this community, the very existence of which has been generally overlooked or denied. Extensive endnotes attest to the thorough and diligent scholarship underlying her account. Along the way, however, the author appears to have been captivated by the stories of some of the families whose circumstances illustrate her thesis. She imagines their daily lives in detail—the rooster crowing as they pause in morning chores to admire the sunrise—and muses on what they may have been thinking or discussing; indeed, Cox often indulges in guesses about what her subjects could have done, might have thought, and must have known. The account thus often teeters on the edge of historical fiction. The prose style is more suitable for young adult readers than for scholars, and the author sometimes lapses into overwrought, florid passages.

A scholarly study with a young adult novel trapped inside and struggling to escape.

Pub Date: June 12, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-61039-810-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: April 3, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2018

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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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Not an easy read but an essential one.

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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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