Memorable voices inform a penetrating, absorbing history.

EAT THE BUDDHA

LIFE AND DEATH IN A TIBETAN TOWN

A portrait of one town reveals Tibet's tragic past.

Demick, a reporter for the Los Angeles Times who served as its bureau chief in Beijing and Seoul, offers a vibrant, often heartbreaking history of Tibet, centered on Ngaba, which sits at 11,000 feet on the plateau where Tibet collides with China. The author made three trips to the town beginning in 2013, and she interviewed Tibetans in Ngaba and many others living abroad, including the Dalai Lama and an exiled princess, who spoke candidly about the culture, religion, and politics of the besieged region. Tibet has long been vulnerable to Chinese invasion: In the 1930s, Red Army soldiers, after ransacking farms and slaughtering animals, caused widespread famine. Desperate from hunger, they discovered that votive statues in the monasteries were sculpted from barley flour and butter and were forced into “literally eating the Buddha.” Demick chronicles decades of incursions, beginning in the 1950s, that resulted in cultural upheaval, economic hardship, and the deaths of about 300,000 Tibetans. Determined to sweep out religion, the Chinese demolished monasteries. Images of the Dalai Lama—or even mention of his name—incurred harsh punishment. Tibetans were herded into communes, where they could not even cook for themselves. Schoolchildren were indoctrinated to believe that the Communist Party “had liberated Tibet from serfdom.” By 1968, protests arose, demanding the “dismantling of the communes, the distribution of livestock to the people, and the right to reopen the monasteries.” Not surprisingly, the Communists refused, directing militias to intimidate and persecute the activists. The protests, Demick writes, “established Ngaba’s reputation for rebelliousness,” which intensified in 2009, when Ngaba became notorious for self-immolations, “an unequivocal register of discontent.” Although many Tibetans are grateful for the economic growth and technology that the Chinese have brought, the loss has been tremendous. “I have everything I might possibly want in life,” one Tibetan businessman told Demick, “but my freedom.”

Memorable voices inform a penetrating, absorbing history.

Pub Date: July 28, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9875-7

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 14, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2020

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A top-notch political memoir and serious exercise in practical politics for every reader.

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A PROMISED LAND

In the first volume of his presidential memoir, Obama recounts the hard path to the White House.

In this long, often surprisingly candid narrative, Obama depicts a callow youth spent playing basketball and “getting loaded,” his early reading of difficult authors serving as a way to impress coed classmates. (“As a strategy for picking up girls, my pseudo-intellectualism proved mostly worthless,” he admits.) Yet seriousness did come to him in time and, with it, the conviction that America could live up to its stated aspirations. His early political role as an Illinois state senator, itself an unlikely victory, was not big enough to contain Obama’s early ambition, nor was his term as U.S. Senator. Only the presidency would do, a path he painstakingly carved out, vote by vote and speech by careful speech. As he writes, “By nature I’m a deliberate speaker, which, by the standards of presidential candidates, helped keep my gaffe quotient relatively low.” The author speaks freely about the many obstacles of the race—not just the question of race and racism itself, but also the rise, with “potent disruptor” Sarah Palin, of a know-nothingism that would manifest itself in an obdurate, ideologically driven Republican legislature. Not to mention the meddlings of Donald Trump, who turns up in this volume for his idiotic “birther” campaign while simultaneously fishing for a contract to build “a beautiful ballroom” on the White House lawn. A born moderate, Obama allows that he might not have been ideological enough in the face of Mitch McConnell, whose primary concern was then “clawing [his] way back to power.” Indeed, one of the most compelling aspects of the book, as smoothly written as his previous books, is Obama’s cleareyed scene-setting for how the political landscape would become so fractured—surely a topic he’ll expand on in the next volume.

A top-notch political memoir and serious exercise in practical politics for every reader.

Pub Date: Nov. 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6316-9

Page Count: 768

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 16, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2020

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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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