A powerful memoir/document of a terrible conflict and its toll on the people who endured it.

THERE WAS A COUNTRY

A PERSONAL HISTORY OF BIAFRA

The eminent Nigerian author recounts his coming-of-age during the now scarcely remembered civil war of 1967–1970 that sundered his country.

An Igbo by birth and heritage, born into a deeply Christian family in 1930, Achebe (The Education of a British-Protected Child: Essays, 2009, etc.) grew up at a time when British colonial rule was at its orderly zenith and educational institutions in Nigeria were first-rate. These schools turned out the imminent Nigerian leaders and pioneers of modern African literature, who would assume power and position as Nigeria marched to independence in 1960. Yet within the vacuum left by the departing British, Nigeria became “a cesspool of corruption and misrule,” with the numerous ethnic groups vying for power, especially the dominant Igbo in the east, the Yoruba on the coast, and Hausa/Fulani in the north. The Igbo were increasingly resented and persecuted for their education, competitive individualism and industriousness. The coup of Jan. 15, 1966 was ostensibly led by Igbo military leaders and was countered by bloody assassinations six months later, followed by pogroms against the Igbo by northerners. Igbo refugees flooded the Eastern Region, which refused to recognize the Nigerian government led by Lt. Col. Yakubu Gowon; the consensus was building across the East, led by Col. Odumegwu Ojukwu, that “secession was the only viable path.” The East was declared the Republic of Biafra on May 30, 1967, with the full backing of the Constituent Assembly and the best Igbo minds of the time, including Achebe. The arrangement proved disastrous, as Gowon aimed to crush the insurrection at all costs, starving Biafra by blockade and creating a global humanitarian disaster that killed an estimated 3 million, mostly children. Achebe looks at all sides of the conflict, inserting poems he wrote at the time and tributes to Nigerian writers and intellectuals.

A powerful memoir/document of a terrible conflict and its toll on the people who endured it.

Pub Date: Oct. 15, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-59420-482-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: June 12, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2012

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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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An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

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BECOMING

The former first lady opens up about her early life, her journey to the White House, and the eight history-making years that followed.

It’s not surprising that Obama grew up a rambunctious kid with a stubborn streak and an “I’ll show you” attitude. After all, it takes a special kind of moxie to survive being the first African-American FLOTUS—and not only survive, but thrive. For eight years, we witnessed the adversity the first family had to face, and now we get to read what it was really like growing up in a working-class family on Chicago’s South Side and ending up at the world’s most famous address. As the author amply shows, her can-do attitude was daunted at times by racism, leaving her wondering if she was good enough. Nevertheless, she persisted, graduating from Chicago’s first magnet high school, Princeton, and Harvard Law School, and pursuing careers in law and the nonprofit world. With her characteristic candor and dry wit, she recounts the story of her fateful meeting with her future husband. Once they were officially a couple, her feelings for him turned into a “toppling blast of lust, gratitude, fulfillment, wonder.” But for someone with a “natural resistance to chaos,” being the wife of an ambitious politician was no small feat, and becoming a mother along the way added another layer of complexity. Throw a presidential campaign into the mix, and even the most assured woman could begin to crack under the pressure. Later, adjusting to life in the White House was a formidable challenge for the self-described “control freak”—not to mention the difficulty of sparing their daughters the ugly side of politics and preserving their privacy as much as possible. Through it all, Obama remained determined to serve with grace and help others through initiatives like the White House garden and her campaign to fight childhood obesity. And even though she deems herself “not a political person,” she shares frank thoughts about the 2016 election.

An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6313-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 30, 2018

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