A compassionate and sterling chronicler rescues from facelessness the victim-survivors of man’s inhumanity to man.

HUMAN CARGO

A JOURNEY AMONG REFUGEES

Journalist and biographer Moorehead (Gellhorn, 2003, etc.) provides a passionate brief on behalf of millions of refugees across the globe.

Dictatorial regimes and calamitous wars in the 20th century have produced continuing crises involving exiles. Though there are “only” 12 million refugees in the world today (compared with 19 million in the mid-1990s), attitudes toward them have hardened, notes the author. They survive mountain crossings and shipwrecks, endure hunger, pay smugglers’ fees, and land in unfamiliar countries with no money. Then they languish for years in holding pens as bureaucrats and lawyers debate whether they should be received or deported. In the post-9/11 atmosphere, heightened fear of terrorism has led more governments to pressure the United Nations High Commission for Refugees to pounce on inconsistencies and small lies as an excuse to deny asylum. Visiting such places as Cairo, Sicily, Tijuana, Australia, Great Britain, and Guinea, Moorehead crafts “a record of what happens to people when their lives spin out of control into horror and loss.” Her unflinching depiction of cases without end and governments without mercy recalls the works of Kafka, Dickens, and Naipaul. Dozens of portraits give sinew and voice to representative examples of this human flotsam. Mothers quietly mourn babies they were forced to leave on the roadside; young men stare sullenly, unable to comprehend how to get out of their camps; and children grapple with traumatic memories of torture and death. It is nearly impossible not to be moved by such plights, and in at least one case—Palestinians seething with resentment against Israel for dispossessing them—Moorehead could have shown more objectivity by explaining the other side’s position. But she evokes refugees’ chaotic and miserable conditions with searing power, as in this description of Cairo: “Wherever the buildings are most derelict, the electricity supplies most sporadic, the water least reliable, there the refugees live.”

A compassionate and sterling chronicler rescues from facelessness the victim-survivors of man’s inhumanity to man.

Pub Date: March 3, 2005

ISBN: 0-8050-7443-0

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2004

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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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However charily one should apply the word, a beautiful book, an unconditionally involving memoir for our time or any time.

I KNOW WHY THE CAGED BIRD SINGS

Maya Angelou is a natural writer with an inordinate sense of life and she has written an exceptional autobiographical narrative which retrieves her first sixteen years from "the general darkness just beyond the great blinkers of childhood."

Her story is told in scenes, ineluctably moving scenes, from the time when she and her brother were sent by her fancy living parents to Stamps, Arkansas, and a grandmother who had the local Store. Displaced they were and "If growing up is painful for the Southern Black girl, being aware of her displacement is the rust on the razor that threatens the throat." But alternating with all the pain and terror (her rape at the age of eight when in St. Louis With her mother) and humiliation (a brief spell in the kitchen of a white woman who refused to remember her name) and fear (of a lynching—and the time they buried afflicted Uncle Willie under a blanket of vegetables) as well as all the unanswered and unanswerable questions, there are affirmative memories and moments: her charming brother Bailey; her own "unshakable God"; a revival meeting in a tent; her 8th grade graduation; and at the end, when she's sixteen, the birth of a baby. Times When as she says "It seemed that the peace of a day's ending was an assurance that the covenant God made with children, Negroes and the crippled was still in effect."

However charily one should apply the word, a beautiful book, an unconditionally involving memoir for our time or any time.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 1969

ISBN: 0375507892

Page Count: 235

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1969

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