AN AMERICAN STORY by Debra J. Dickerson


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A straightforward yet empty memoir of the modern American Dream, as experienced by an African-American journalist.

There are many reasons to write a memoir. Some write to record their experiences as history, others to offer personal reflection on the more quotidian events of their lives. Some offer inspiration, others a warning. Dickerson (Senior Fellow/New America Foundation) attempts all of these and achieves none of them. The story of her life is exceptional in its own right and, in its outlines at least, contains the promise of real drama. The daughter of a working-class family (and of an abusive father) in North St. Louis, Dickerson excelled in school, won honor upon honor in the Air Force, survived rape, and ultimately worked her way to and through Harvard Law School—all while bearing the double burdens of her race and sex. Not content to be seen simply as a survivor, however, Dickerson portrays herself as a smart, bookish, nonconformist capable of great things. All of which is quite credible, to be sure—but to the extent that there’s some moral lesson to be found here, that’s as far as it goes. Although other possible themes are suggested at points, none is carried through. Dickerson’s conversion from political conservatism to the left is never explored in any depth, for example, and her difficulty gaining acceptance as an intelligent and successful person within the black community is anticlimactically resolved by her willingness to be alone. Indeed, Dickerson spends most of her time dwelling on the development of her resumé, and (while we are appparently meant to view these accomplishments as evidence of personal growth and growing confidence) somehow each honor is relished too much. The development of character—which must be at the center of a memoir such as this—is discussed reluctantly and unconvincingly.

An interesting life translated into a lackluster autobiography.

Pub Date: Sept. 19th, 2000
ISBN: 0-375-42069-X
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: Pantheon
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 2000


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