Danticat takes on an unpleasant topic with sensitivity and passion.

THE ART OF DEATH

WRITING THE FINAL STORY

A guide to writing—and reading—about death.

National Book Critics Circle Award winner Danticat (Claire of the Sea Light, 2013, etc.) adds to “The Art of” series with this work on how writers approach the topics of death and dying. Though the book is slim, it is overarching and broad in scope. Drawing on an array of writers, Danticat presents a wide range of approaches to death, including her own. Having written extensively about her mother’s death, for which she was present, the author lends a deeply personal touch to this study. She truly finds her stride after first surrounding readers with the almost impossible depth of her topic. Though not tied to a structure, Danticat explores the varieties of death and how each one is approached by writers. Suicide, execution, natural death, and accidental death all receive attention. Collective deaths also play a role, especially 9/11 and the Haitian earthquake of 2010. The author also examines suicide through the works of writers as diverse as Tolstoy, Faulkner, Albert Camus, Dylan Thomas, Zora Neale Hurston, Christopher Hitchens, and Toni Morrison. For executions, she shares the wisdom of Mumia Abu-Jamal, a death row inmate. Regarding death as an all-encompassing end to life, she smartly draws from Gabriel García Márquez. Most movingly, Danticat brings her audience into the very private realm of her own mother’s death from cancer. She writes of the tests, the diagnosis, the decline, and the final hours and moments as her mother slipped away. Though faith and fear both come up in this book, they are not highlighted. This work is more about how death is described in literature, and the author asks if we really can describe it adequately at all.

Danticat takes on an unpleasant topic with sensitivity and passion.

Pub Date: July 11, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-55597-777-1

Page Count: 180

Publisher: Graywolf

Review Posted Online: May 16, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2017

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An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

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BECOMING

The former first lady opens up about her early life, her journey to the White House, and the eight history-making years that followed.

It’s not surprising that Obama grew up a rambunctious kid with a stubborn streak and an “I’ll show you” attitude. After all, it takes a special kind of moxie to survive being the first African-American FLOTUS—and not only survive, but thrive. For eight years, we witnessed the adversity the first family had to face, and now we get to read what it was really like growing up in a working-class family on Chicago’s South Side and ending up at the world’s most famous address. As the author amply shows, her can-do attitude was daunted at times by racism, leaving her wondering if she was good enough. Nevertheless, she persisted, graduating from Chicago’s first magnet high school, Princeton, and Harvard Law School, and pursuing careers in law and the nonprofit world. With her characteristic candor and dry wit, she recounts the story of her fateful meeting with her future husband. Once they were officially a couple, her feelings for him turned into a “toppling blast of lust, gratitude, fulfillment, wonder.” But for someone with a “natural resistance to chaos,” being the wife of an ambitious politician was no small feat, and becoming a mother along the way added another layer of complexity. Throw a presidential campaign into the mix, and even the most assured woman could begin to crack under the pressure. Later, adjusting to life in the White House was a formidable challenge for the self-described “control freak”—not to mention the difficulty of sparing their daughters the ugly side of politics and preserving their privacy as much as possible. Through it all, Obama remained determined to serve with grace and help others through initiatives like the White House garden and her campaign to fight childhood obesity. And even though she deems herself “not a political person,” she shares frank thoughts about the 2016 election.

An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6313-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 30, 2018

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Not an easy read but an essential one.

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HOW TO BE AN ANTIRACIST

Title notwithstanding, this latest from the National Book Award–winning author is no guidebook to getting woke.

In fact, the word “woke” appears nowhere within its pages. Rather, it is a combination memoir and extension of Atlantic columnist Kendi’s towering Stamped From the Beginning (2016) that leads readers through a taxonomy of racist thought to anti-racist action. Never wavering from the thesis introduced in his previous book, that “racism is a powerful collection of racist policies that lead to racial inequity and are substantiated by racist ideas,” the author posits a seemingly simple binary: “Antiracism is a powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to racial equity and are substantiated by antiracist ideas.” The author, founding director of American University’s Antiracist Research and Policy Center, chronicles how he grew from a childhood steeped in black liberation Christianity to his doctoral studies, identifying and dispelling the layers of racist thought under which he had operated. “Internalized racism,” he writes, “is the real Black on Black Crime.” Kendi methodically examines racism through numerous lenses: power, biology, ethnicity, body, culture, and so forth, all the way to the intersectional constructs of gender racism and queer racism (the only section of the book that feels rushed). Each chapter examines one facet of racism, the authorial camera alternately zooming in on an episode from Kendi’s life that exemplifies it—e.g., as a teen, he wore light-colored contact lenses, wanting “to be Black but…not…to look Black”—and then panning to the history that informs it (the antebellum hierarchy that valued light skin over dark). The author then reframes those received ideas with inexorable logic: “Either racist policy or Black inferiority explains why White people are wealthier, healthier, and more powerful than Black people today.” If Kendi is justifiably hard on America, he’s just as hard on himself. When he began college, “anti-Black racist ideas covered my freshman eyes like my orange contacts.” This unsparing honesty helps readers, both white and people of color, navigate this difficult intellectual territory.

Not an easy read but an essential one.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-50928-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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