Offers only vexing problems, not solutions, but does so with clarity, conviction and outrage.

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BITTER CHOCOLATE

THE DARK SIDE OF THE WORLD’S MOST SEDUCTIVE SWEET

The compelling untold story of a universal luxury that is unattainable to the very people who provide its most essential ingredient.

Most of the world’s chocolate is produced in some of the least stable, most impoverished places in the world—places like Côte d’Ivoire, Africa, which for 15 years has been in near-constant political upheaval. Harvesting and processing cocoa pods is backbreaking, dangerous labor in a region roiled by ethnic cleansing and in some areas civil war. The workers who get paid at all lose much of their meager wages to government “fees” that amount to state-sanctioned bribery—and they’re the lucky ones. The unlucky ones are nothing less than modern-day slaves, many of them children “hired” through brokers and forced to work long hours for no pay and little or no food. But chocolate consumption has always relied on exploitation, argues Off (The Ghosts of Medak Pocket: The Story of Canada’s Secret War, 2004, etc.): from Meso-American times, when slaves harvested and mashed cocoa pods to make a bitter drink for their masters, to the colonial era, when European slave merchants traded African workers to cocoa plantations. The chocolate industry has been aware of slave labor in cocoa production since at least the 19th century, she writes, but almost no progress has been made in wiping it out. Congress has rejected efforts to institute a “slave free” labeling system, preferring a voluntary system that, Off contends, has no teeth. So-called “fair trade” chocolate is no panacea either, as a growing number of small chocolate companies have been taken over by the very multinationals to which they were supposed to provide alternatives.

Offers only vexing problems, not solutions, but does so with clarity, conviction and outrage.

Pub Date: May 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-1-59558-330-7

Page Count: 336

Publisher: The New Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2008

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Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

A LITTLE HISTORY OF POETRY

A light-speed tour of (mostly) Western poetry, from the 4,000-year-old Gilgamesh to the work of Australian poet Les Murray, who died in 2019.

In the latest entry in the publisher’s Little Histories series, Carey, an emeritus professor at Oxford whose books include What Good Are the Arts? and The Unexpected Professor: An Oxford Life in Books, offers a quick definition of poetry—“relates to language as music relates to noise. It is language made special”—before diving in to poetry’s vast history. In most chapters, the author deals with only a few writers, but as the narrative progresses, he finds himself forced to deal with far more than a handful. In his chapter on 20th-century political poets, for example, he talks about 14 writers in seven pages. Carey displays a determination to inform us about who the best poets were—and what their best poems were. The word “greatest” appears continually; Chaucer was “the greatest medieval English poet,” and Langston Hughes was “the greatest male poet” of the Harlem Renaissance. For readers who need a refresher—or suggestions for the nightstand—Carey provides the best-known names and the most celebrated poems, including Paradise Lost (about which the author has written extensively), “Kubla Khan,” “Ozymandias,” “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” Wordsworth and Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads, which “changed the course of English poetry.” Carey explains some poetic technique (Hopkins’ “sprung rhythm”) and pauses occasionally to provide autobiographical tidbits—e.g., John Masefield, who wrote the famous “Sea Fever,” “hated the sea.” We learn, as well, about the sexuality of some poets (Auden was bisexual), and, especially later on, Carey discusses the demons that drove some of them, Robert Lowell and Sylvia Plath among them. Refreshingly, he includes many women in the volume—all the way back to Sappho—and has especially kind words for Marianne Moore and Elizabeth Bishop, who share a chapter.

Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-300-23222-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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SLEEPERS

An extraordinary true tale of torment, retribution, and loyalty that's irresistibly readable in spite of its intrusively melodramatic prose. Starting out with calculated, movie-ready anecdotes about his boyhood gang, Carcaterra's memoir takes a hairpin turn into horror and then changes tack once more to relate grippingly what must be one of the most outrageous confidence schemes ever perpetrated. Growing up in New York's Hell's Kitchen in the 1960s, former New York Daily News reporter Carcaterra (A Safe Place, 1993) had three close friends with whom he played stickball, bedeviled nuns, and ran errands for the neighborhood Mob boss. All this is recalled through a dripping mist of nostalgia; the streetcorner banter is as stilted and coy as a late Bowery Boys film. But a third of the way in, the story suddenly takes off: In 1967 the four friends seriously injured a man when they more or less unintentionally rolled a hot-dog cart down the steps of a subway entrance. The boys, aged 11 to 14, were packed off to an upstate New York reformatory so brutal it makes Sing Sing sound like Sunnybrook Farm. The guards continually raped and beat them, at one point tossing all of them into solitary confinement, where rats gnawed at their wounds and the menu consisted of oatmeal soaked in urine. Two of Carcaterra's friends were dehumanized by their year upstate, eventually becoming prominent gangsters. In 1980, they happened upon the former guard who had been their principal torturer and shot him dead. The book's stunning denouement concerns the successful plot devised by the author and his third friend, now a Manhattan assistant DA, to free the two killers and to exact revenge against the remaining ex-guards who had scarred their lives so irrevocably. Carcaterra has run a moral and emotional gauntlet, and the resulting book, despite its flaws, is disturbing and hard to forget. (Film rights to Propaganda; author tour)

Pub Date: July 10, 1995

ISBN: 0-345-39606-5

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1995

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