No chicken-soup maxims here for those searching for the meaning of life, but some cumulatively worthy exegeses of who we are...

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WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE HUMAN?

REVERENCE FOR LIFE REAFFIRMED BY RESPONSES FROM AROUND THE WORLD

Mindful meditations that attempt, with faith and hope and occasional charity, to counteract the “virus of contempt for life”—exemplified in the 20th-century by extermination, genocide, and atomic devastation.

Gathered from dozens of prominent and not-so-prominent thinkers, activists, artists, writers, and others, contributions for these reflections come from Elie Wiesel, Oscar Arias, Vaclav Havel, Mother Teresa, Cornel West, James Earl Jones, and the Dalai Lama. Among the less familiar names are those of musicians, poets, theologians, academics, religious, and community workers. Artist Franck (The Zen of Seeing, not reviewed) and his coeditors took the lead in compiling the collection and have also contributed to it. The writings range from tightly argued essays to spiritual parables, from Zen-like poems to recountings of myths. Not all are as optimistic as one might expect in such a collection: a Cambodian refugee, for instance, who from the time he was ten “witnessed the murders of thousands of human beings” cannot envision a truly humane world. But many look to the transcendence of the human spirit and the community of mankind as an achievable goal, if only because we can’t stay on the path of materialism and ecological destruction much longer. Others, like Mother Teresa and Doctor Anne E. Goldfeld, write from a familiarity with suffering men and women who have shared their last bite with a neighbor or who have blessed instead of cursed their desperate lives.

No chicken-soup maxims here for those searching for the meaning of life, but some cumulatively worthy exegeses of who we are and where we are going.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-312-25237-4

Page Count: 304

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2000

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Dramatic, immersive, and wanting—much like desire itself.

THREE WOMEN

Based on eight years of reporting and thousands of hours of interaction, a journalist chronicles the inner worlds of three women’s erotic desires.

In her dramatic debut about “what longing in America looks like,” Taddeo, who has contributed to Esquire, Elle, and other publications, follows the sex lives of three American women. On the surface, each woman’s story could be a soap opera. There’s Maggie, a teenager engaged in a secret relationship with her high school teacher; Lina, a housewife consumed by a torrid affair with an old flame; and Sloane, a wealthy restaurateur encouraged by her husband to sleep with other people while he watches. Instead of sensationalizing, the author illuminates Maggie’s, Lina’s, and Sloane’s erotic experiences in the context of their human complexities and personal histories, revealing deeper wounds and emotional yearnings. Lina’s infidelity was driven by a decade of her husband’s romantic and sexual refusal despite marriage counseling and Lina's pleading. Sloane’s Fifty Shades of Grey–like lifestyle seems far less exotic when readers learn that she has felt pressured to perform for her husband's pleasure. Taddeo’s coverage is at its most nuanced when she chronicles Maggie’s decision to go to the authorities a few years after her traumatic tryst. Recounting the subsequent trial against Maggie’s abuser, the author honors the triumph of Maggie’s courageous vulnerability as well as the devastating ramifications of her community’s disbelief. Unfortunately, this book on “female desire” conspicuously omits any meaningful discussion of social identities beyond gender and class; only in the epilogue does Taddeo mention race and its impacts on women's experiences with sex and longing. Such oversight brings a palpable white gaze to the narrative. Compounded by the author’s occasionally lackluster prose, the book’s flaws compete with its meaningful contribution to #MeToo–era reporting.

Dramatic, immersive, and wanting—much like desire itself.

Pub Date: July 9, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4516-4229-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Avid Reader Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2019

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However charily one should apply the word, a beautiful book, an unconditionally involving memoir for our time or any time.

I KNOW WHY THE CAGED BIRD SINGS

Maya Angelou is a natural writer with an inordinate sense of life and she has written an exceptional autobiographical narrative which retrieves her first sixteen years from "the general darkness just beyond the great blinkers of childhood."

Her story is told in scenes, ineluctably moving scenes, from the time when she and her brother were sent by her fancy living parents to Stamps, Arkansas, and a grandmother who had the local Store. Displaced they were and "If growing up is painful for the Southern Black girl, being aware of her displacement is the rust on the razor that threatens the throat." But alternating with all the pain and terror (her rape at the age of eight when in St. Louis With her mother) and humiliation (a brief spell in the kitchen of a white woman who refused to remember her name) and fear (of a lynching—and the time they buried afflicted Uncle Willie under a blanket of vegetables) as well as all the unanswered and unanswerable questions, there are affirmative memories and moments: her charming brother Bailey; her own "unshakable God"; a revival meeting in a tent; her 8th grade graduation; and at the end, when she's sixteen, the birth of a baby. Times When as she says "It seemed that the peace of a day's ending was an assurance that the covenant God made with children, Negroes and the crippled was still in effect."

However charily one should apply the word, a beautiful book, an unconditionally involving memoir for our time or any time.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 1969

ISBN: 0375507892

Page Count: 235

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1969

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