ALL ELSE FAILED

THE UNLIKELY VOLUNTEERS AT THE HEART OF THE MIGRANT AID CRISIS

An account of humanitarian aid that is both inspiring and troubling.

When governments fail to rescue those fleeing political terror, it’s up to volunteers to step in.

Sachs, a journalist and co-founder of Humanity Now: Direct Refugee Relief, opens her account in a ramshackle district of Athens, the capital of the nation through which, by 2015, more than 800,000 refugees from Africa and Asia had passed on the way to other parts of Europe. “They needed help,” writes the author, “but Greece, buried in debt, did not have resources to address the crisis.” The EU distributed millions of euros, but inefficiently, while the U.N. was slow to react. Consequently, private individuals from all over the world came to the aid of the refugees, providing food, medical assistance, clothing, and other necessities. Altruism underlay most of their efforts, but, as one British woman told Sachs, “We’d had our own shit.” Having experienced troubles with the immigration system herself, she had empathy for the experiences of the Syrians, Afghans, and others who had wound up in that Greek camp with no place else to go. Many volunteers mustered the bravery to swim into rough waters to rescue refugees in danger of drowning after their smugglers’ boats sank. Eventually, many refugees were able to aid themselves by taking donated food and cooking for hundreds of people at a time. Sadly, writes Sachs, for all the efforts of those involved, burnout is common: “Some long-term volunteers decided that close relationships with refugees drained them emotionally and compromised their effectiveness.” Meanwhile, some volunteers behaved as if the camp were a holiday venue; when corrected, they protested that this was how it was in Europe and that the refugees had better get used to it. In the end, the volunteer efforts were only partially successful; the situation required professionals. “The story of displacement can’t have a happy ending,” writes Sachs. Still, one can only try.

An account of humanitarian aid that is both inspiring and troubling.

Pub Date: March 21, 2023

ISBN: 9781954276093

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Bellevue Literary Press

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2023

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A WEALTH OF PIGEONS

A CARTOON COLLECTION

A virtuoso performance and an ode to an undervalued medium created by two talented artists.

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The veteran actor, comedian, and banjo player teams up with the acclaimed illustrator to create a unique book of cartoons that communicates their personalities.

Martin, also a prolific author, has always been intrigued by the cartoons strewn throughout the pages of the New Yorker. So when he was presented with the opportunity to work with Bliss, who has been a staff cartoonist at the magazine since 1997, he seized the moment. “The idea of a one-panel image with or without a caption mystified me,” he writes. “I felt like, yeah, sometimes I’m funny, but there are these other weird freaks who are actually funny.” Once the duo agreed to work together, they established their creative process, which consisted of working forward and backward: “Forwards was me conceiving of several cartoon images and captions, and Harry would select his favorites; backwards was Harry sending me sketched or fully drawn cartoons for dialogue or banners.” Sometimes, he writes, “the perfect joke occurs two seconds before deadline.” There are several cartoons depicting this method, including a humorous multipanel piece highlighting their first meeting called “They Meet,” in which Martin thinks to himself, “He’ll never be able to translate my delicate and finely honed droll notions.” In the next panel, Bliss thinks, “I’m sure he won’t understand that the comic art form is way more subtle than his blunt-force humor.” The team collaborated for a year and created 150 cartoons featuring an array of topics, “from dogs and cats to outer space and art museums.” A witty creation of a bovine family sitting down to a gourmet meal and one of Dumbo getting his comeuppance highlight the duo’s comedic talent. What also makes this project successful is the team’s keen understanding of human behavior as viewed through their unconventional comedic minds.

A virtuoso performance and an ode to an undervalued medium created by two talented artists.

Pub Date: Nov. 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-26289-9

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Celadon Books

Review Posted Online: Aug. 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2020

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CALYPSO

Sedaris at his darkest—and his best.

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In which the veteran humorist enters middle age with fine snark but some trepidation as well.

Mortality is weighing on Sedaris (Theft by Finding: Diaries 1977-2002, 2017, etc.), much of it his own, professional narcissist that he is. Watching an elderly man have a bowel accident on a plane, he dreaded the day when he would be the target of teenagers’ jokes “as they raise their phones to take my picture from behind.” A skin tumor troubled him, but so did the doctor who told him he couldn’t keep it once it was removed. “But it’s my tumor,” he insisted. “I made it.” (Eventually, he found a semitrained doctor to remove and give him the lipoma, which he proceeded to feed to a turtle.) The deaths of others are much on the author’s mind as well: He contemplates the suicide of his sister Tiffany, his alcoholic mother’s death, and his cantankerous father’s erratic behavior. His contemplation of his mother’s drinking—and his family’s denial of it—makes for some of the most poignant writing in the book: The sound of her putting ice in a rocks glass increasingly sounded “like a trigger being cocked.” Despite the gloom, however, frivolity still abides in the Sedaris clan. His summer home on the Carolina coast, which he dubbed the Sea Section, overspills with irreverent bantering between him and his siblings as his long-suffering partner, Hugh, looks on. Sedaris hasn’t lost his capacity for bemused observations of the people he encounters. For example, cashiers who say “have a blessed day” make him feel “like you’ve been sprayed against your will with God cologne.” But bad news has sharpened the author’s humor, and this book is defined by a persistent, engaging bafflement over how seriously or unseriously to take life when it’s increasingly filled with Trump and funerals.

Sedaris at his darkest—and his best.

Pub Date: May 29, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-316-39238-9

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Feb. 19, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2018

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