LETTERS TO CAMONDO

Beautifully rendered recollections of a distant world.

In 50 imaginary letters to Comte Moïse de Camondo (1860-1935), a famed art collector and cultural benefactor, de Waal reflects on the meaning—to Camondo, to France, and to Jewish history—of the Musée Nissim de Camondo, which Camondo established in memory of his son, who died fighting for France in World War I. The author is related to the Camondo family “in complicated ways.” As he notes, “I can draw a family tree, possibly, but it would be a spider’s web” of intermarriages, with “whole branches” linking the Camondos and his own Ephrussi family, portrayed in his earlier book, The Hare With Amber Eyes. Arriving in France in 1869, both families lived near one another in a Parisian neighborhood that Jews saw as “secular, republican, tolerant, civilized”; where they felt insulated from pervasive anti-Semitism; and where they engaged in efforts “to align French and Jewish culture.” Camondo built an opulent mansion and staffed it with a coterie of servants to care for his leather-bound books, curated wine cellar, gilded 18th-century French furniture, and Sèvres porcelain. De Waal lovingly evokes the luxuriant textures and glinting surfaces of a rarefied ambience of “talk and food and porcelain and politesse and civilité”; where Camondo, born in Constantinople, strived for acceptance as a Frenchman. Yet despite his considerable philanthropy and his son’s sacrifice, Camondo could not escape the culture’s disdain of Jews as arrivistes, “social climbers, vulgarians, upstarts, status seekers, mimics. As Jews aspiring to the veneer and polish of the gratin and failing to disguise their origins.” He died before knowing how easily Vichy France complied with Nazi occupiers to rid France of Jews. More than chronicling the family’s splendor and tragic end, de Waal has created a deeply hued tapestry of a lost time and a poetic meditation on grief, memory, and the fragile consolation of art. The book is beautifully illustrated with color images from the museum and family photographs.

A radiant family history.

Pub Date: May 11, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-374-60348-9

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: March 23, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2021

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A concise personal and scholarly history that avoids academic jargon as it illuminates emotional truths.

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ON JUNETEENTH

The Harvard historian and Texas native demonstrates what the holiday means to her and to the rest of the nation.

Initially celebrated primarily by Black Texans, Juneteenth refers to June 19, 1865, when a Union general arrived in Galveston to proclaim the end of slavery with the defeat of the Confederacy. If only history were that simple. In her latest, Gordon-Reed, winner of the Pulitzer Prize, National Book Award, Anisfield-Wolf Book Award, and numerous other honors, describes how Whites raged and committed violence against celebratory Blacks as racism in Texas and across the country continued to spread through segregation, Jim Crow laws, and separate-but-equal rationalizations. As Gordon-Reed amply shows in this smooth combination of memoir, essay, and history, such racism is by no means a thing of the past, even as Juneteenth has come to be celebrated by all of Texas and throughout the U.S. The Galveston announcement, notes the author, came well after the Emancipation Proclamation but before the ratification of the 13th Amendment. Though Gordon-Reed writes fondly of her native state, especially the strong familial ties and sense of community, she acknowledges her challenges as a woman of color in a state where “the image of Texas has a gender and a race: “Texas is a White man.” The author astutely explores “what that means for everyone who lives in Texas and is not a White man.” With all of its diversity and geographic expanse, Texas also has a singular history—as part of Mexico, as its own republic from 1836 to 1846, and as a place that “has connections to people of African descent that go back centuries.” All of this provides context for the uniqueness of this historical moment, which Gordon-Reed explores with her characteristic rigor and insight.

A concise personal and scholarly history that avoids academic jargon as it illuminates emotional truths.

Pub Date: May 4, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-63149-883-1

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Liveright/Norton

Review Posted Online: Feb. 24, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2021

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A Churchill-ian view of native history—Ward, that is, not Winston—its facts filtered through a dense screen of ideology.

AN INDIGENOUS PEOPLES' HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

Custer died for your sins. And so, this book would seem to suggest, did every other native victim of colonialism.

Inducing guilt in non-native readers would seem to be the guiding idea behind Dunbar-Ortiz’s (Emerita, Ethnic Studies/California State Univ., Hayward; Blood on the Border: A Memoir of the Contra War, 2005, etc.) survey, which is hardly a new strategy. Indeed, the author says little that hasn’t been said before, but she packs a trove of ideological assumptions into nearly every page. For one thing, while “Indian” isn’t bad, since “[i]ndigenous individuals and peoples in North America on the whole do not consider ‘Indian’ a slur,” “American” is due to the fact that it’s “blatantly imperialistic.” Just so, indigenous peoples were overwhelmed by a “colonialist settler-state” (the very language broadly applied to Israelis vis-à-vis the Palestinians today) and then “displaced to fragmented reservations and economically decimated”—after, that is, having been forced to live in “concentration camps.” Were he around today, Vine Deloria Jr., the always-indignant champion of bias-puncturing in defense of native history, would disavow such tidily packaged, ready-made, reflexive language. As it is, the readers who are likely to come to this book—undergraduates, mostly, in survey courses—probably won’t question Dunbar-Ortiz’s inaccurate assertion that the military phrase “in country” derives from the military phrase “Indian country” or her insistence that all Spanish people in the New World were “gold-obsessed.” Furthermore, most readers won’t likely know that some Ancestral Pueblo (for whom Dunbar-Ortiz uses the long-abandoned term “Anasazi”) sites show evidence of cannibalism and torture, which in turn points to the inconvenient fact that North America wasn’t entirely an Eden before the arrival of Europe.

A Churchill-ian view of native history—Ward, that is, not Winston—its facts filtered through a dense screen of ideology.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-8070-0040-3

Page Count: 296

Publisher: Beacon

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2014

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