A thin exercise in documentary history, drawing on nondescript letters from two New Jerseyborn brothers who happened to fight on opposite sides in the Civil War Journalist-turned-historian Chadwick (Rutgers Univ.) cobbles together an unrevealing account of the Halsey brothers' lives and fortunes. It does not help that his chief protagonist, Princeton-educated Edmund Halsey, a Union officer, confined most of his letters home to family and the local newspaper to complaining about the food and the boredom of camp life, and that his writing is listless and general; we seldom see any glimpse of his character, his reaction to the great events and battles of his time. Nor does it help that the letters of Edmund's older brother, the proslavery convert Joseph Halsey, are similarly dry and few in number. This leaves Chadwick the onerous task of trying, through extensive annotations, to make the correspondence more interesting than it is. When Edmund writes, then, to his father that the Emancipation Proclamation is ``either the best or the worst thing which could be done,'' it falls to Chadwick to explain that the proclamation caused controversy in the North inasmuch as it was meant ``to change the entire political and cultural life of the nation.'' In this instance—and it is representative—Halsey's statement is opaque, and the commentary merely assertive, raising more questions than it answers (how was the proclamation intended to recast the nation?). And Chadwick's annotations are too often misplaced; we learn from them, for instance, that New Jersey is called the Garden State ``for its flowers and because of its place as one of the country's leading vegetable growers,'' while critical details of, say, the Battle of Spotsylvania pass by unremarked. Only specialists in New Jersey's role in the Civil War will find much of use in this collection.

Pub Date: May 1, 1997

ISBN: 1-55972-401-3

Page Count: 288

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1997

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


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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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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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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