An altogether sobering look at a system of punishment founded on racial injustice and going strong.

FOREVER PRISONERS

HOW THE UNITED STATES MADE THE WORLD'S LARGEST IMMIGRANT DETENTION SYSTEM

“Immigrant detention today is part of a carceral landscape in the United States that includes more than 2 million citizens behind bars.” So writes historian Young in a sweeping survey of the American gulag.

The U.S. has the largest imprisoned population in the world; it also has the world’s largest number of imprisoned foreigners. These are not coincidences, writes the author. Immigration and penal policy have always been thoroughly racialized. Nor is it an accident that the next-highest number of imprisoned foreigners are in Mexico—not because Mexico is especially hostile to immigrants, but “because almost all of those detentions are at the behest of the United States.” The Obama administration retains the record for the largest number of arrests and deportations of foreigners, but add in the number kept from reaching this country due to Mexican interdiction and deportation and the number of detainees in secret CIA prisons and prisons run by proxies elsewhere, and the number might be larger still today. Young centers on immigration policy over the last century to deliver surprising lessons from history. “Foreign policy is always part of the calculus of immigration control,” he writes, but it is during times of “heightened fear” and alarm that the greatest excesses are committed. It is well known, for instance, that Japanese Americans were imprisoned as suspected enemy aliens during World War II, but it will come as news to many readers that the U.S. coordinated with allied nations such as Peru to kidnap Japanese nationals and bring them to American prison camps. In another case study, Young examines a deportee and long-term prisoner who was housed in an insane asylum, a convenient place to tuck away problem cases. More recent prison activity for both citizens and foreigners hinges on “tough on crime” policies that have mostly been aimed at minority populations, especially “black and brown men.”

An altogether sobering look at a system of punishment founded on racial injustice and going strong.

Pub Date: Jan. 12, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-19-008595-7

Page Count: 280

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: Sept. 29, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2020

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A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.

HAPPY-GO-LUCKY

Sedaris remains stubbornly irreverent even in the face of pandemic lockdowns and social upheaval.

In his previous collection of original essays, Calypso (2018), the author was unusually downbeat, fixated on aging and the deaths of his mother and sister. There’s bad news in this book, too—most notably, the death of his problematic and seemingly indestructible father at 96—but Sedaris generally carries himself more lightly. On a trip to a gun range, he’s puzzled by boxer shorts with a holster feature, which he wishes were called “gunderpants.” He plays along with nursing-home staffers who, hearing a funnyman named David is on the premises, think he’s Dave Chappelle. He’s bemused by his sister Amy’s landing a new apartment to escape her territorial pet rabbit. On tour, he collects sheaves of off-color jokes and tales of sexual self-gratification gone wrong. His relationship with his partner, Hugh, remains contentious, but it’s mellowing. (“After thirty years, sleeping is the new having sex.”) Even more serious stuff rolls off him. Of Covid-19, he writes that “more than eight hundred thousand people have died to date, and I didn’t get to choose a one of them.” The author’s support of Black Lives Matter is tempered by his interest in the earnest conscientiousness of organizers ensuring everyone is fed and hydrated. (He refers to one such person as a “snacktivist.”) Such impolitic material, though, puts serious essays in sharper, more powerful relief. He recalls fending off the flirtations of a 12-year-old boy in France, frustrated by the language barrier and other factors that kept him from supporting a young gay man. His father’s death unlocks a crushing piece about dad’s inappropriate, sexualizing treatment of his children. For years—chronicled in many books—Sedaris labored to elude his father’s criticism. Even in death, though, it proves hard to escape or laugh off.

A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.

Pub Date: May 31, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-316-39245-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: March 11, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2022

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A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

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WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

A neurosurgeon with a passion for literature tragically finds his perfect subject after his diagnosis of terminal lung cancer.

Writing isn’t brain surgery, but it’s rare when someone adept at the latter is also so accomplished at the former. Searching for meaning and purpose in his life, Kalanithi pursued a doctorate in literature and had felt certain that he wouldn’t enter the field of medicine, in which his father and other members of his family excelled. “But I couldn’t let go of the question,” he writes, after realizing that his goals “didn’t quite fit in an English department.” “Where did biology, morality, literature and philosophy intersect?” So he decided to set aside his doctoral dissertation and belatedly prepare for medical school, which “would allow me a chance to find answers that are not in books, to find a different sort of sublime, to forge relationships with the suffering, and to keep following the question of what makes human life meaningful, even in the face of death and decay.” The author’s empathy undoubtedly made him an exceptional doctor, and the precision of his prose—as well as the moral purpose underscoring it—suggests that he could have written a good book on any subject he chose. Part of what makes this book so essential is the fact that it was written under a death sentence following the diagnosis that upended his life, just as he was preparing to end his residency and attract offers at the top of his profession. Kalanithi learned he might have 10 years to live or perhaps five. Should he return to neurosurgery (he could and did), or should he write (he also did)? Should he and his wife have a baby? They did, eight months before he died, which was less than two years after the original diagnosis. “The fact of death is unsettling,” he understates. “Yet there is no other way to live.”

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular clarity.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8840-6

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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