Well-meant but the components refuse to interlock.

NO HEROES

A MEMOIR OF COMING HOME

An interesting but predictable autobiographical essay on homecoming and heroism.

Offut, who over the past decade has won kudos for his memoir (The Same River Twice, 1993) and stories of the Kentucky hill people (Out of the Woods, 1999, etc.), attempts an ambitious juxtaposition: a memoir of his return to a teaching job at a small regional college intercut with verbatim transcriptions of his in-laws’ experiences during the Holocaust. The ironic unifying theme is that although home is a sustaining force in the human imagination, we can never actually return there. Offut, a writer and teacher inspired to share his love of books and learning with his “people,” meets insurmountable obstacles in his one-man education crusade. Meanwhile, his in-laws, Arthur and Irene, in recounting their survival in a concentration camp, seem glad just to be alive and entertain no illusions about a return to prewar Europe. There are several problems here. Offut’s desire to play a significant role again in the community of his childhood seems naïve and predictably doomed; it’s never entirely clear how much of his story and dialogue is fictionalized, a distraction in a book that purports to render Holocaust memories faithfully; and the parallel accounts—an idealist frustrated by unmotivated students in Kentucky versus Jews facing death in a Nazi concentration camp—are grossly disproportionate. Offut’s strength has always been the beauty and confidence with which he describes the culture he knows; his commentary on the world of SS men, guard dogs, and barbed wire feels far less assured. There’s an excellent short essay on a rural county’s ability to see through its prodigal son, and many other bright moments, weighed down by awkwardly forced passages involving the author’s affection for his first-grade teacher, muscle cars, trees, and a dead owl.

Well-meant but the components refuse to interlock.

Pub Date: April 3, 2002

ISBN: 0-684-86551-3

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2002

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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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Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

TOMBSTONE

THE EARP BROTHERS, DOC HOLLIDAY, AND THE VENDETTA RIDE FROM HELL

Rootin’-tootin’ history of the dry-gulchers, horn-swogglers, and outright killers who populated the Wild West’s wildest city in the late 19th century.

The stories of Wyatt Earp and company, the shootout at the O.K. Corral, and Geronimo and the Apache Wars are all well known. Clavin, who has written books on Dodge City and Wild Bill Hickok, delivers a solid narrative that usefully links significant events—making allies of white enemies, for instance, in facing down the Apache threat, rustling from Mexico, and other ethnically charged circumstances. The author is a touch revisionist, in the modern fashion, in noting that the Earps and Clantons weren’t as bloodthirsty as popular culture has made them out to be. For example, Wyatt and Bat Masterson “took the ‘peace’ in peace officer literally and knew that the way to tame the notorious town was not to outkill the bad guys but to intimidate them, sometimes with the help of a gun barrel to the skull.” Indeed, while some of the Clantons and some of the Earps died violently, most—Wyatt, Bat, Doc Holliday—died of cancer and other ailments, if only a few of old age. Clavin complicates the story by reminding readers that the Earps weren’t really the law in Tombstone and sometimes fell on the other side of the line and that the ordinary citizens of Tombstone and other famed Western venues valued order and peace and weren’t particularly keen on gunfighters and their mischief. Still, updating the old notion that the Earp myth is the American Iliad, the author is at his best when he delineates those fraught spasms of violence. “It is never a good sign for law-abiding citizens,” he writes at one high point, “to see Johnny Ringo rush into town, both him and his horse all in a lather.” Indeed not, even if Ringo wound up killing himself and law-abiding Tombstone faded into obscurity when the silver played out.

Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-21458-4

Page Count: 400

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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