BITITA'S DIARY

THE CHILDHOOD MEMOIRS OF CAROLINA MARIA DE JESUS

An evocative portrait of a childhood of abject poverty, by one of Brazil's bestselling authors. Jesus (191577) was a literary phenomenon of the 1950s. Discovered living in a shantytown by a So Paulo newspaperman, Jesus, whose nickname was Bitita, became the bestselling author in Brazilian history when the journalist helped her find a publisher for a collection of her diaries, which appeared in 1958 (and later in English as Child of the Dark). Jesus quickly became the spokesperson for Third World poverty as her book was translated into many languages, yet she died in near-obscurity and scavenging for food to eat. This rather fragmentary book, written in the 1970s and only compiled after her death, is Jesus's adult recollection of her childhood in rural Brazil in the 1920s. Like all memoirs, this one suffers from a certain amount of revisionist history-making. Her supposed five- and six-year-old ponderings about race and the unequal treatment of women by men, for instance, are at times so astute as to be unbelievable. That said, this is an impressive book, not only for Jesus's searing portraits of poverty in Brazil—a picture that editor Levine (director of Latin American Studies at the University of Miami) claims never has been so honestly drawn—but for her depictions of the crippling power of the Brazilian class structure and racial and sexual prejudice. Only the most heartless would not be moved by Jesus's recounting of the rebukes she received from relatives and others as she tried to claw her way out of the very deep social and racial hole into which she was born. Certainly not a book for mainstream America, but invaluable for scholars and historians interested the real picture of rural Brazilian life in the 1920s.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-7656-0211-3

Page Count: 180

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 1997

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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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