An illuminating chapter in the history of African-American family life, and in the American story generally.




A welcome sequel, of sorts, to Ball’s well-received Slaves in the Family (1998).

In the former study, journalist Ball examined the interwoven histories of his South Carolinian family and the descendants of slaves his ancestors once held. Here, Ball focuses on one many-branched family, the Harlestons, founded in the 1840s in what was once termed an act of miscegenation between the white farmer William Harleston and a slave named Kate Wilson. Both parties suffered ostracism for the union, and their children were denied legal recognition and public schooling. Forever outsiders—Ball writes of photographs of them, “There is pride in the way they hold themselves, but in their eyes there is a gleam of insecurity, as though something about life isn’t right”—the Harleston children and their descendants went on to make distinguished careers, joining the lower ranks of the “colored aristocracy.” One became a mortician, founding a business confined, owing to 19th-century Jim Crow laws, to an African-American and mixed-race clientele. The mortician’s daughter married a minister who organized the orphans under his charge into musical groups; the minister earned a handsome living from the receipts, while some of the orphans, such as Freddie Green and Jabbo Smith, went on to play with the likes of Louis Armstrong and Count Basie. Other Harleston descendants and kin became writers, composers, and painters, making their mark in Harlem and Paris as well as Charleston. If any of them were ordinary, Ball doesn't say, though he takes care not to idealize. Throughout, he writes affectingly of their unusual hardships, as well as the difficulties of some descendants, even today, in claiming kinship across once sharply marked ethnic boundaries.

An illuminating chapter in the history of African-American family life, and in the American story generally.

Pub Date: Oct. 10, 2001

ISBN: 0-688-16840-X

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2001

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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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Bibliophiles will love this fact-filled, bookish journey.


An engaging, casual history of librarians and libraries and a famous one that burned down.

In her latest, New Yorker staff writer Orlean (Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend, 2011, etc.) seeks to “tell about a place I love that doesn’t belong to me but feels like it is mine.” It’s the story of the Los Angeles Public Library, poet Charles Bukowski’s “wondrous place,” and what happened to it on April 29, 1986: It burned down. The fire raged “for more than seven hours and reached temperatures of 2000 degrees…more than one million books were burned or damaged.” Though nobody was killed, 22 people were injured, and it took more than 3 million gallons of water to put it out. One of the firefighters on the scene said, “We thought we were looking at the bowels of hell….It was surreal.” Besides telling the story of the historic library and its destruction, the author recounts the intense arson investigation and provides an in-depth biography of the troubled young man who was arrested for starting it, actor Harry Peak. Orlean reminds us that library fires have been around since the Library of Alexandria; during World War II, “the Nazis alone destroyed an estimated hundred million books.” She continues, “destroying a culture’s books is sentencing it to something worse than death: It is sentencing it to seem as if it never happened.” The author also examines the library’s important role in the city since 1872 and the construction of the historic Goodhue Building in 1926. Orlean visited the current library and talked to many of the librarians, learning about their jobs and responsibilities, how libraries were a “solace in the Depression,” and the ongoing problems librarians face dealing with the homeless. The author speculates about Peak’s guilt but remains “confounded.” Maybe it was just an accident after all.

Bibliophiles will love this fact-filled, bookish journey.

Pub Date: Oct. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4018-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: July 2, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2018

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