A vigorous, eye-opening account of a country of great importance to the world, past and future.

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VIETNAM

A NEW HISTORY

America was not the first world power to meet defeat in far-distant Vietnam. The reasons for that loss emerge from this welcome overview of that nation’s history.

Sometimes, as with Richard Grant’s book on the Mississippi Delta, Dispatches from Pluto (2015), it helps to have American events explained by a non-American. Here the explainer is Goscha (The Penguin History of Modern Vietnam, 2016, etc.), a historian at the Université du Québec, the thing being explained a decadelong war in a country whose history reaches back millennia. The author’s survey gathers force when he enters the late 19th and early 20th centuries and the establishment of French Indochina, which set up the events that would culminate in war. The French government in Indochina enjoyed a great deal of local autonomy, for good or ill. Among those ills, the author notes in a fascinating aside, was forcing a Romanized alphabet on the country in the place of the classical Chinese ideograms, which “distanced Vietnamese from the East Asian civilizations in which they had moved for centuries.” They may have been unmoored, but nationalists still arose to claim independence, led by the “educated young” who had been schooled on the French model. Enter the Americans, who aimed to suppress this movement after the French failed to do so. Goscha poses a number of counterfactual questions: what might have happened if the cease-fire of 1954 held? What would have ensued if the Americans had not made the French war their own—and, as he points out, had not shouldered 80 percent of the cost of the French war to begin with? The devastation visited on the country in the “hugely assymetrical” American war remains shocking to contemplate; one Viet Cong leader characterizes it as an “experience of undiluted psychological terror.” Goscha closes by noting recent trends that might fulfill the planks of the republican movement of a century ago—and threaten the communist government accordingly.

A vigorous, eye-opening account of a country of great importance to the world, past and future.

Pub Date: Sept. 13, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-465-09436-3

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Basic

Review Posted Online: July 4, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2016

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Not an easy read but an essential one.

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HOW TO BE AN ANTIRACIST

Title notwithstanding, this latest from the National Book Award–winning author is no guidebook to getting woke.

In fact, the word “woke” appears nowhere within its pages. Rather, it is a combination memoir and extension of Atlantic columnist Kendi’s towering Stamped From the Beginning (2016) that leads readers through a taxonomy of racist thought to anti-racist action. Never wavering from the thesis introduced in his previous book, that “racism is a powerful collection of racist policies that lead to racial inequity and are substantiated by racist ideas,” the author posits a seemingly simple binary: “Antiracism is a powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to racial equity and are substantiated by antiracist ideas.” The author, founding director of American University’s Antiracist Research and Policy Center, chronicles how he grew from a childhood steeped in black liberation Christianity to his doctoral studies, identifying and dispelling the layers of racist thought under which he had operated. “Internalized racism,” he writes, “is the real Black on Black Crime.” Kendi methodically examines racism through numerous lenses: power, biology, ethnicity, body, culture, and so forth, all the way to the intersectional constructs of gender racism and queer racism (the only section of the book that feels rushed). Each chapter examines one facet of racism, the authorial camera alternately zooming in on an episode from Kendi’s life that exemplifies it—e.g., as a teen, he wore light-colored contact lenses, wanting “to be Black but…not…to look Black”—and then panning to the history that informs it (the antebellum hierarchy that valued light skin over dark). The author then reframes those received ideas with inexorable logic: “Either racist policy or Black inferiority explains why White people are wealthier, healthier, and more powerful than Black people today.” If Kendi is justifiably hard on America, he’s just as hard on himself. When he began college, “anti-Black racist ideas covered my freshman eyes like my orange contacts.” This unsparing honesty helps readers, both white and people of color, navigate this difficult intellectual territory.

Not an easy read but an essential one.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-50928-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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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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