There’s an unfortunate cringe factor in some sloppy prose (“She likes long walks in the park and vanilla cookie-dough...

COLONIZE THIS!

YOUNG WOMEN OF COLOR ON TODAY’S FEMINISM

An uneven mix of essays from third-wave feminists of color.

“What is it about the word ‘feminism’ that has encouraged women of color to stand apart from it?” queries one contributor. Feeling that the topic of race has been given short shrift in women’s studies (and, conversely, that the study of gender is ignored in ethnic studies), these young essayists tackle the ways in which race, class, and gender intersect and define their lives. Their voices are distinct (the writers identify as Puerto Rican, Mexican-American, Nigerian, and Sri Lankan, among other ethnicities), and the pieces cover a wide territory. Taigi Smith offers a wry look at neighborhood regentrification: she resents the practice on her childhood block in San Francisco’s Mission District, but is grateful that her current Brooklyn neighborhood is undergoing the process. Activist Stella Luna describes how her HIV-positive status helped transform her from a directionless young woman into a health-care advocate. (When asked if she would choose to be cured or to retain the strength, compassion, and empowerment she’s acquired since being diagnosed with the disease, Luna admits she would chose to remain as she is.) Most of the essayists agree that the personal is political; hence the tales of eating disorders, sexual harassment, rape, and abortion. The two strongest sections focus on the inclination of these young women to see their mothers as practicing feminists—even though their mothers might reject the label—and on the process of negotiating traditions. These women construct a different feminism, one that allows them to retain their culture and customs, as well as question traditional gender roles.

There’s an unfortunate cringe factor in some sloppy prose (“She likes long walks in the park and vanilla cookie-dough ice-cream from Häagen-Dazs and gets exhilarated from tap-dancing at fast speeds”), but trenchant perspectives are sprinkled throughout.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2002

ISBN: 1-58005-067-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Seal Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2002

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A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

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WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

A neurosurgeon with a passion for literature tragically finds his perfect subject after his diagnosis of terminal lung cancer.

Writing isn’t brain surgery, but it’s rare when someone adept at the latter is also so accomplished at the former. Searching for meaning and purpose in his life, Kalanithi pursued a doctorate in literature and had felt certain that he wouldn’t enter the field of medicine, in which his father and other members of his family excelled. “But I couldn’t let go of the question,” he writes, after realizing that his goals “didn’t quite fit in an English department.” “Where did biology, morality, literature and philosophy intersect?” So he decided to set aside his doctoral dissertation and belatedly prepare for medical school, which “would allow me a chance to find answers that are not in books, to find a different sort of sublime, to forge relationships with the suffering, and to keep following the question of what makes human life meaningful, even in the face of death and decay.” The author’s empathy undoubtedly made him an exceptional doctor, and the precision of his prose—as well as the moral purpose underscoring it—suggests that he could have written a good book on any subject he chose. Part of what makes this book so essential is the fact that it was written under a death sentence following the diagnosis that upended his life, just as he was preparing to end his residency and attract offers at the top of his profession. Kalanithi learned he might have 10 years to live or perhaps five. Should he return to neurosurgery (he could and did), or should he write (he also did)? Should he and his wife have a baby? They did, eight months before he died, which was less than two years after the original diagnosis. “The fact of death is unsettling,” he understates. “Yet there is no other way to live.”

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular clarity.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8840-6

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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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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