A welcome and valuable resource for anyone studying or writing about this much-maligned region.

APPALACHIAN RECKONING

A REGION RESPONDS TO HILLBILLY ELEGY

Appalachian writers and scholars rebut the “gross simplifications and stereotypes” of J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy (2016).

Often cited as a way to understand the working-class voters who helped elect Donald Trump, Hillbilly Elegy has been a longtime bestseller, will soon become an HBO movie, and has made Vance a media expert on Appalachia. Indeed, it is the most widely read book on the region. Now comes this thoughtful and provocative anthology of essays, poems, and photographs arguing for treatment of Appalachia as a “diverse and complex place.” Edited by Harkins (History/Western Kentucky Univ.; Hillbilly: A Cultural History of an American Icon, 2003) and McCarroll (Writing and Rhetoric/Bowdoin Coll.; Unwhite: Appalachia, Race, and Film, 2018), the book ranges widely in its single focus, with contributors variously attacking, defending, or simply critiquing the book. All deem Hillbilly a biased work reinforcing stereotypes of the region’s people (snake handlers, mountain men) as understood by a conservative Kentuckian born into a poor, unstable family who pulled himself up by his bootstraps, attended Yale Law School, and became a venture capitalist. The result, writes Tennessee historian T.R.C. Hutton, is “a Silicon Valley millionaire [who] is now the most popular source for understanding twenty-first century rural poverty.” In other pieces, Kentucky sociologist Dwight B. Billings calls the memoir an ad for “capitalist neoliberalism,” and California law professor Lisa Pruitt, who is “from hillbilly stock,” finds it reminiscent of her childhood but filled with “ill-informed policy prescriptions.” Like others, she believes systemic societal problems—not only personal choice and accountability—help shape regional life. Vance’s defenders say he is entitled to his personal story and to his interpretation of his early social environment. Writer Ivy Brashear, a 10th-generation Appalachian, notes that the book lacks class, heart, and warmth. Others offer nuanced considerations of race, sexuality, and drug use.

A welcome and valuable resource for anyone studying or writing about this much-maligned region.

Pub Date: March 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-946684-79-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: West Virginia Univ. Press

Review Posted Online: Jan. 16, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 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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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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