A thoughtful, probing meditation on the fragility of memory and the indelible inheritance of pain.




Trauma informs a memoir palpable with anger, sorrow, and frustration.

Poet, essayist, and novelist Rosner (Electric City, 2014, etc.) feels an intimate connection to the Holocaust: her father was imprisoned in Buchenwald concentration camp when he was 15, and her mother, at the age of 12, fled from her home in the Vilna ghetto and lived in hiding for two years, until the Russians drove the Nazis out of Poland. The two met later, married, and immigrated to the United States, where Rosner and her siblings were born. German culture and language were forbidden in her family, yet the author’s life was shadowed by her parents’ history. “Shards of their past lodged themselves inside me at birth, if not before,” she writes, which infused her life with “grief, anxiety, rage, and so much more.” Those emotions are shared, Rosner knows, with many others whose lives were blighted by atrocities: Vietnamese boat people, victims of the Cambodian Killing Fields, Japanese descendants of atom-bomb survivors or families interned in American camps, and survivors of Armenian, Rwandan, or Native American genocides. Although she empathetically considers others’ experiences, her focus is on how her own identity has been shaped. The author looks to epigenetics for evidence of intergenerational trauma, passed to offspring in “mother’s milk drenched in sadness” and other visceral ways: “we are inheriting more than the overt repeating of survival stories.” Rosner acknowledges the need “to interrupt the cycle of trauma” through therapy and, at the same time, believes that the culture urgently needs those stories to ensure that the past will not be forgotten. She repeatedly expresses frustration with the inadequacy of words to convey horrific reality as well as by memorials and museums that fall short of offering “a personal shape for such collective and monumental mourning.” Central to the narrative are three visits to Buchenwald with her father, for a commemoration, where inmates, liberators, and German residents gathered at a Survivor’s Café, an emotional reunion.

A thoughtful, probing meditation on the fragility of memory and the indelible inheritance of pain.

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-61902-954-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Counterpoint

Review Posted Online: June 5, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2017

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A clear and candid contribution to an essential conversation.


Straight talk to blacks and whites about the realities of racism.

In her feisty debut book, Oluo, essayist, blogger, and editor at large at the Establishment magazine, writes from the perspective of a black, queer, middle-class, college-educated woman living in a “white supremacist country.” The daughter of a white single mother, brought up in largely white Seattle, she sees race as “one of the most defining forces” in her life. Throughout the book, Oluo responds to questions that she has often been asked, and others that she wishes were asked, about racism “in our workplace, our government, our homes, and ourselves.” “Is it really about race?” she is asked by whites who insist that class is a greater source of oppression. “Is police brutality really about race?” “What is cultural appropriation?” and “What is the model minority myth?” Her sharp, no-nonsense answers include talking points for both blacks and whites. She explains, for example, “when somebody asks you to ‘check your privilege’ they are asking you to pause and consider how the advantages you’ve had in life are contributing to your opinions and actions, and how the lack of disadvantages in certain areas is keeping you from fully understanding the struggles others are facing.” She unpacks the complicated term “intersectionality”: the idea that social justice must consider “a myriad of identities—our gender, class, race, sexuality, and so much more—that inform our experiences in life.” She asks whites to realize that when people of color talk about systemic racism, “they are opening up all of that pain and fear and anger to you” and are asking that they be heard. After devoting most of the book to talking, Oluo finishes with a chapter on action and its urgency. Action includes pressing for reform in schools, unions, and local governments; boycotting businesses that exploit people of color; contributing money to social justice organizations; and, most of all, voting for candidates who make “diversity, inclusion and racial justice a priority.”

A clear and candid contribution to an essential conversation.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-58005-677-9

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Seal Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 9, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2017

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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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