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HOME AND EXILE

A welcome book for Achebe’s many admirers, as well as for all students of contemporary African cultures.

Bookish lectures in which the Nigerian Nobel Prize–winning novelist reflects on his life and work.

Achebe (Hopes and Impediments, 1989) is the renowned author of Things Fall Apart, the most widely read novel ever to come out of Africa. Here, in three lectures given in 1998 at Harvard, Achebe draws on his recollections of childhood and youth to describe the origins of that 1958 book, as well as of the Nigerian independence movement that was reaching its full flowering in the late ’50s. At several points Achebe recalls an undergraduate class in which he and his fellow students read Joyce Cary’s novel Mister Johnson, which was set in Nigeria and full of white-man’s-burden tropes; when one of those students rose and informed the teacher that “the only moment he had enjoyed in the entire book was when the Nigerian hero, Johnson, was shot to death by his British master,” Achebe realized that he was witnessing the birth of a “landmark rebellion” (one in which Nigerians would press for their own sense of national identity) and of a literature destined to be filled with better heroes than the “embarrassing nitwit” Johnson. Achebe’s tour of English literature highlights the outrageous interpretations of African culture that much of it contains (in books that depicted Africans as, in the words of one white author, “a people of beastly living, without a God, laws, religion”). Plainly as tired of multiculturalist appropriations of African cultures as of imperialist ones, Achebe urges his listeners to seek authentic voices, ones outside the confines of the imagined “universal civilization” of Europe and North America.

A welcome book for Achebe’s many admirers, as well as for all students of contemporary African cultures.

Pub Date: June 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-19-513506-7

Page Count: 110

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2000

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

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

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  • Pulitzer Prize Finalist

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 5, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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NIGHT

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

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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