Lowney’s treatment is less fluent than María Rosa Menocal’s Ornament of the World (2002), but still of much interest to...

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A VANISHED WORLD

MEDIEVAL SPAIN’S GOLDEN AGE OF ENLIGHTENMENT

A thoughtful visit to medieval Spain, where Christians, Jews, and Muslims once lived side by side—and the Muslims were in charge.

The Visigothic rulers of post–Roman Spain were great warriors and reasonably able administrators. Still, writes Lowney (Heroic Leadership, 2003), they ushered in “the economic and cultural stagnation that later historians dubbed the Dark Ages” even as they promulgated anti-Semitic laws that punished a people who, some historians hazard, were in Spain even before Christianity took root. Then came the year 711, when 10,000 Moorish soldiers swiftly conquered most of the Iberian peninsula, establishing Muslim rule over five million inhabitants and instituting a government that extended more or less equal rights to all. In the golden age that ensued (which is not to be confused with the golden age of Phillip II), Spain became a center of learning and culture as encyclopedists and mathematicians filled the plazas of Granada and Seville; al-Andalus taught the future Pope Gerbert how to do his numbers and allowed the courtier and poet Samuel ha-Nagid to become “the most extraordinarily accomplished Jew not only in Spain but anywhere in medieval Christendom, and one of the most accomplished in any era in European history.” Though religious and ethnic tensions were far from unknown during the eight centuries of Muslim rule, fraternity was the order of the day; Lowney cites, for instance, legal records recording the aftermath of interfaith bouts of drinking and carousing, when partiers of all faiths wound up in the hoosegow to sleep it off. Other kinds of mixing exercised the wrath of the Catholic hierarchy outside Spain, and when the Muslims were finally driven from Iberia in 1492—and Jews who refused to convert expelled immediately thereafter—those Spaniards who advocated the view that ecumenicalism was possible were tortured and burned at the stake for their trouble.

Lowney’s treatment is less fluent than María Rosa Menocal’s Ornament of the World (2002), but still of much interest to those seeking evidence that we can, in fact, all get along.

Pub Date: April 6, 2005

ISBN: 0-7432-4359-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Free Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2005

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

NIGHT

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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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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